YES.

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Hello dear everyone! I want to take a hot second to clash a figurative glass of bubbly (preferably the pink kind) for some great, great news.

This year, I’ll be writing and finishing my memoir at Hugo House as a Made at Hugo Fellow for 2016-2017!! The mornings, afternoons, and evenings at Hugo in the next year will allow me to combine the experiences of the incredible trip I took in June to research my ancestral roots with the thesis I wrote at the University of Idaho, Moscow all about growing up in Hollywood.

Seattle friends, students, and writers of all kinds, I can’t wait to see you on the reg, at the House.

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ps. Celebratory donuts are also allowed… This week, I had four with a little help from an old friend at a favorite spot. So.

Need a Writing BFF?

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I split work early yesterday for a sweet date with Greta Gerwig (actress and writer) and Noah Baumbach (writer and director)–one of my absolute favorite writing teams–to see Mistress America this afternoon. It was like seeing old friends.

SPOILER ALERT: The image above–thank you deadline.com–is toward the end of the movie, after Tracy (Lola Kirke’s character) violates a trust in their friendship by writing a beautiful piece of “fiction” based on Brooke, Greta Gerwig’s character. The many ways that Gerwig and Baumbach explore the profound love in female friendship never leaves my eyes dry, and it often reminds me of my girlfriends. SPOILER OVER

I’ve been thinking about close relationships a lot lately as Carolyn and I build this incredible workshop (launches in less than two weeks, y’all!). And the two of us have been considering famous literary matches and writing teams that have produced incredible work. (BTW: Did you hear J.Law and Amy Schumer are finishing up their first script together? And then dancing on pianos to celebrate?) The more I think about my heroes–Virginia Woolf, Amy Poehler, Toni Morrison, and countless others–I can also think of the fellow writers, friends, lovers, family, and spouses that made their writing possible, and better than it would have otherwise been.

Mistress America is, in part, about the connections that make for incredible writing and stories. Nearly anywhere you look in literary history, past or present, I dare you not to find a profound relationship or web of relationships behind beautiful work.

This is why we’re teaching this class. We want to build your community, and ours. We want you to have access to our brains for guidance because we know how important it’s been to have access to writers who’ve come before us. We want you in our inner circle. We know you want in, too.

So pass the word along. Get your friends involved. (We’re still offering that 2-for-$200-each discount for writer friends. To get access to that deal, email us at ck2015workshop@gmail.com.)

Don’t keep writing all by your lonesome. Write with us. Click here.

Literary Friendships

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In this week’s newsletter for the The Shape of Story: A Writing Workshop in Craft, Carolyn and I sent out some killer material about literary friendships throughout the ages and prompts to encourage new ones.

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We spent some time thinking about these relationships not only in honor of our own friendship, literary and otherwise, but also because we want to support this phenomenon anyway we can. That’s why we’re offering the 2-for-$200-each special: We want you to foster and grow your literary and writing community along with us. (You can contact me here to find out more about this deal.)

Because lord knows, I don’t know what I’d do without my writer friends to call up for a last minute opinion or edit on a piece that is way too something-it-shouldn’t-be. These relationships are what’s made it possible for me to grow as a writer–and to publish my work.

It so happens that I came across this gem from Alexandra Kleeman and Kathleen Alcott about just such friendships and their benefits.

Here’s a sweet quote I pulled right off the top of the piece that says a whole lot about why these relationships are so important:

Writing can be a lonely profession, but when you meet someone whose mind you trust, whose opinions you adore, and whose brain you’d like to smash into yours until they form a single powerful thinking entity, it’s not so bad. –Alexandra Kleeman

Amen to some hypothetical, theoretical brain-smashing. Have a friend you haven’t brain-smashed with in a while? Get in touch to get started. Or looking to do it more often with some fresh brains? Click here.

Truth Time: Why I Love Working with You

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Just yesterday, I had the privilege of talking over iced coffee with someone I know is a very special new friend and is also a few steps (and years) ahead of me in creating her own business. She has the experience and the know-how I’m steadily learning about audience and powerful content delivery. Aside from the obvious reasons why it was great to pick her brain a little, a whole lot of unexpected benefits (the best kind of benefits) came from this conversation. I woke up this morning and thought, Why don’t I tell everybody? So here we are.

When our discussion turned to the real, deep down reasons why what we do is essential to who we are, I had a few moments of clarity. But first, a little background. A lot of businesses and companies these days talk about storytelling. It’s a buzz word and a topic even the biggest of corporations realize is essential to reaching their audiences. So that’s pretty convenient for me, because storytelling is that core element of the business I’m building: I believe in it devoutly. And here’s why (you might have heard this a few times before if you love Oprah the way I do): All the pain, struggle, wins, and surprises of my personal and professional life are assets. In this conversation yesterday, I very clearly saw how my stories and experiences give invaluable power to my work. And the same is true for you, CEOs, small biz owners, and entrepreneurs. Our stories add up to an incredible arsenal of what we all have and want so much to give.

The real story of who I am and where I come from, what I want and where I’m going, is not something that has come easy and has not always been clear. And this is true for most of us. Maybe even all of us. My story has been gathered during hours at the library researching family ancestry, long phone calls and kitchen table conversations about deep and long-held desires, and countless pages pounded out in MS Word docs digging up my own memories and turning them, turning them, turning them so I can see them and retell them from every angle (as I’ve been taught to do by a certain Brandon Schrand because that is what an essayist does).

And while I was doing all this researching, talking, and writing that adds up to years, stories emerged. My stories–and you’ll just have to trust me on this–they created the reasons why I want to tell yours. Stories tell us where we’ve been, and they help us know where we want to go. And this isn’t just true of individuals. This is true of everything, and it’s true of your business just as it’s true of mine.

The work of telling a story from any angle: This is my specialty. This is how I’ve spent my 10,000 hours becoming an expert. This is how I love to work for you.

So where are you and your business going? Let’s find out together and write it true, so your right people, your clients, understand without a shadow of a doubt just exactly why they need you.

Behind the Scenes: Fall 2015 Writing Workshop Prep

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I’m in New York for much of June with one of the best people in the whole world and we’re cooking up a special treat just for you, dear readers.

We spent some time in McNally Jackson Books last night for inspiration and a few treats…

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… and this morning we drank iced coffee, ate croissant and a fruit bowl, and brainstormed what will be the scaffolding for a thorough, thought-provoking, and inspiring craft workshop this fall.

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There’s much more to come, but we wanted to give you a sneak peak into our notebooks so you can get excited with us.

Next week, we’ll be at a magical, undisclosed location by a lake in New Hampshire hatching more details. Stay tuned!

Spring Writing Workshop Reflections and Praise

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These workshops are getting sweeter and sweeter.

This time around, it was all about play. There was collaging, found prose and poems, and we even used dreams and this special book as writing prompts. In four three-hour sessions, these writers produced one complete first draft and/or up to four beginnings for new stories and essays. They presented their work at a final reading at the Prichard Art Gallery, and it was inspiring to hear these diverse styles and stories one after another.

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Here’s what some of these talented young writers had to say about the workshop:

The exercise where we choose important elements of our dream, picked it out in the book of symbols, and then gained inspiration from there was the best part for me. I am extremely happy I took this course. I know I now want to actively pursue writing. Thank you so much! — Mass Market Fiction Writer

I loved the exercises we did involving collage because they help me think in a different way. It feels like an escape but it actually taps into parts of me and my writing that are more intimate and harder to find. I also really loved the exercise we did on the last day, jumping from dreams to images to symbols. I need more workshops, I need more workshops! — Journalist, Poet, and Essayist

The most useful exercise was collaging. Being able to physically manipulate images to reflect your writing and characters brought my story to a new level (it even brought about a story I had no intention of writing). I am absolutely grateful that you shared this with the class and that not only was it a challenge but that it was fun. Great class. You are a great teacher. — Literary Short Fiction Writer

The overwhelming request at the end of the class–and what I feel inspired to tackle next–was to cover more technique, craft, style, form, voice. The scaffolding that makes a piece of writing stand.

Who am I to deny the people what they want? So it’s time to get down and dirty.

I’ll be teaching an online craft workshop online this Fall, and I can’t wait to get you more details. Look out for those coming soon!

Spring Writing Workshop: Collage Makes An Awesome Writing Prompt

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When Barthelme said “collage is… one of the central principles of literature [in this century]”, he was talking about collaging sentences and/or found writing. But I figured, why not make visual collage work for writers?

In this season’s writing workshop, the number one thing my students want is freedom from their demons. They want to steer away from the monsters whispering from the dark, damp corners of the mind telling them they’ll never live up to the craft masters. Or maybe that’s just me sometimes.

So my task was to get their hands moving and their attention on their creativity so they could bump their production.

To get them rolling, I turned to a technique I learned from Elizabeth Merrick when I took her writing workshop back in 2008: COLLAGE. I wanted to find a way to let the potential within them loose, but stay focused so they had a clear writing target when they were done with their visual creations. These students of mine are serious: they want to write books and study craft. So I focused them on a few projects, and you, dear reader, can use these prompts at home all on your own.

First, we took about 20 minutes and created covers for the book projects of our dreams. We free wrote for about five minutes describing the project, then used magazines, markers, paint, string, and whatever else was sitting around the writing studio to create the covers for those projects. Here are a couple, including my own.

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“Lost Summer Wonders.” actually has tape on the back of the words, so the author can change the title as the project grows. I loved this idea. Mine, on the other hand, is ready for print as soon as I finish writing the text. Look for it around 2020.

To dig into the craft I knew my students were hungry for, we went deeper. As we explored building character, I gave them a new collage assignment. Limiting the project to one color which felt best suited to the character in mind, fictional or not, we created portraits with the same tools we used for the book covers. Here are a few of the results.

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We used these portraits to kick off a few writing prompts about the characters in the collages as well as their counterpoints, as articulated by Charles Baxter in Burning Down the House.

In tomorrow’s class, we’ll be workshopping some completed, brand new essays these students have written up in just four classes. I can’t wait to get into the nitty gritty with them.

Join us next time! I’m co-teaching an online writing workshop focused exclusively on craft with Carolyn Silveira in the coming months. Stay tuned!

Spring Creative Writing Workshop

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I’m so excited about the crew that’s gathering for this class. There’s a wide variety of writing experience and there is going to be some incredible feedback around the table. Here’s the poster. Send me a message if you want in!

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Shop Talk

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My dear friend and talented writer, Rebecca Brooks, asked me to participate in a blog hop, and I was glad to jump in. Below are the questions, a bio for Rebecca and two more of my impressive writer friends, Chelsia Rice and Carolyn Silveira (their bios can be found below), who I’m tagging to keep this going. Read below for my take on these questions about craft and my current work.

What am I working on writing?

Right now I’m working on a memoir. I’ve published a few pieces of it as essays in the last year or so, so I’m polishing a few more for the same purpose while also beginning to weave them together into a longer whole.

The book is a close look at the overlap of reality, celluloid fantasy, and addiction; what it means to recover; and the radical work of deciding what to believe. It begins in Los Angeles, where I grew up watching the same bleached asphalt, palm trees, and cirrus skies from the backseat of the car window as I saw in movies and on television.

Traveling as far from Hollywood as I could get, loneliness seeped from the mahogany wood and Baroque décor of my Northeastern dorm room where it didn’t take long before a film crew set up and began shooting the film Mona Lisa Smile; the protagonist’s name the same as my own. Upon graduating, I went to stake a claim in New York City (while paying my uncle rent for his apartment uptown), and instead dropped to skin and bone before being fired from my last of many jobs in the city, all the while imagining myself a movie star strutting down Fifth Avenue in clothing my mother bought inspired by A Devil Wears Prada. That is, until I ducked into West Side Market for a dinner of free cheese samples and grapes I plucked when no one was looking. The focus of this book lies where the dream of Hollywood perfection meets my own flesh and blood.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

I don’t have any idea really. The nonfiction/memoir genre is so wildly interpretive now, it seems that it’s all alike and all very different in that writers are just doing what they want. That said, I think I’m one of those nonfiction writers that writes like a fictioneer. I tend to read mostly fiction and my big heroes are novelists and essayists, not memoirists. In fact, I find the memoirs my heroes have written to be a little dull. So I tend to write scenes like you might see in a novel, but with the reflection of a really great self-help book (a guilty pleasure).

Form-wise, I, like others, am playing with vignette and short, quick chapters, but the emphasis is on the visual more than anything else I’ve yet to read. I’m trying to write a book that works like a movie. I’m writing about movies, my love of them and how they’ve defined my reality since before I could, so taking the reader to a place that is as purely visual as possible without actually using pictures is the goal. I think a lot of memoir writing right now is very heady, very intellectual, meta, and I’ve just always enjoyed a good story more than anything else. I recently read an interesting piece about this argument of the aesthete versus the intellectual here.

Why do I write what I do?

Because I’m obsessed. I’m obsessed with the dig. They talk about how good essays and essayists turn and turn and turn an object/focus/idea, trying to see all its sides and insides, to see it in every light, from every angle. This is, of course, an endless endeavor, and it is what I’m doing with my past. It is driven by a desire to know myself and those I love, and to better understand the ever-changing world around me. I’m particularly interested in Los Angeles as a subject because it is a land of deception. It is perceived as light but it is so dark. It is perceived as a place where dreams come true, but so many have been eaten alive by its violence and bleakness. I love it for its secret passion and culture, for its illusions of vapidness.

How does my writing process work?

It is also obsessive. It is meditative and is often born of a few strong pages built into many through hours of sitting at my desk appearing mostly as if I’m doing nothing. At least that’s how it feels. I tend to do a whole lot slowly and with a lot of meditation. That’s what it takes to get out of my head and away into the ride of one sentence following another following another.

Chelsia A. Rice

Chelsia A. Rice is a cancer survivor and essayist living with her partner and two wiener dogs in Helena, Montana. As a daughter of a lesbian couple, she’s been a life-long vocal advocate for equal rights. After receiving her MFA from the University of Idaho in 2008, she published “Tough Enough to Float” in The Los Angeles Review. Though it was the first essay she published, it was selected as a Notable Best American Essay for 2014. More of her writing can be found at About.com, Peripheral Surveys, and at Chelsiarice.com.

Carolyn Silveira

Carolyn Silveira is a writer, editor, and lover of strategic brainstorming who helps social entrepreneurs and other scrappy, interesting people to articulate their ideas and communicate their brand through copywriting, creative communications, and content production. She has served on the editorial staff of the well-reviewed online literary journal anderbo.com (where you can also read her satirical short story about James Franco) and helped launch an innovative multimedia journal called Lux. Carolyn is a dilettante gardener and avid radio listener, and is working on a collection of short stories and a novel. Her erratic tweets can be found @CaroTheCMonster.

Rebecca Brooks

Rebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She received a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind to try something new—and find the passion, excitement and purpose they didn’t know they’d been missing.

Fall Creative Nonfiction Workshop

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This semester’s workshop was a complete success. With the help of Lucy Holtsnider, our writers and artists created beautiful books of their own. The covers are cloudy transparent pages over collages made in class. The concept for the collage was inspiration for a piece of writing and the design was expertly guided by Lucy. The books have beautiful clean pages with which to fill their projects begun in class, and have already been marked with our final freewrite.

And like any final class properly celebrated, there was wine.

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