Thursday, August 29, 2013

Getting a Fresh Start in the Fall

by Kathryn Johnson

Autumn always seems a particularly productive time of year for writers. Cooler weather energizes us. Youngsters return to school—for some of us parents, and grandparents, providing the luxury of more time to write. We have the gift of a glorious few months between summer vacation and the onset of the hectic holiday season during which we can immerse ourselves in the creation of new stories, poems, screenplays, essays, articles, and even novels. To my mind, there is no better or less distracting time of the year in which to start a new project, finish an ongoing one, or learn something new about our craft. I start a new novel every fall and work right alongside my students. And I’m often laboring over another book’s revisions at the same time. I’d love for you to join us while pursuing your own literary adventure this fall!

You’ll discover lots of classes to choose from in the Fall catalogue. All of the instructors at The Writer’s Center work hard to develop the kinds of courses you’ll enjoy while picking up new skills and refining those you’ve used for years.  Meanwhile, here’s a quick preview of the classes I’ll be offering my students between now and the end of 2013. You’ll find days, times, and additional details in the catalogue, as well as online at The Writer’s Center website:

The Extreme Novelist gives each student a chance to work on a rough draft of their own novel, under the instructor’s guidance—with support, encouragement, and nudges from the class. This 8-week course requires dedication to an intense program of daily writing with a goal of completing a full draft of a novel in 8 weeks. Be brave—what have you got to lose?

The Fiction Master Workshop is an advanced 4-week course that addresses what to do with your novel, novella, creative nonfiction, or short story after you’ve finished a draft. A practical self-editing, fine-tuning course, with marketing tips. Its goal? To increase your odds of publication by: 1) avoiding the most common pitfalls that result in immediate rejection, 2) including elements most desired by readers and acquiring editors.

And a variety of ½-day single-focus seminars served up with coffee and pastries:

Historical Fiction celebrates the rebirth of the genre. HF accommodates just about every genre from mysteries to adventure, from generational sagas to sea stories, Westerns and romances. Experiment with setting your story in a past time and place, and attract devoted readers.

Creating Conflict discusses how to build emotional conflict into any plot, thereby creating the necessary tension to capture readers’ attention and keep them engaged.

Life’s Characters gives writers a fresh way of looking at characterization that will breathe life into their paper people and make readers care deeply about them.

Powerful Beginnings spotlights the task of creating a strong opening for your stories. Editors today, sadly, often reject on the basis of having sampled only the first few sentences or paragraphs of a story. Learn how to avoid the knee-jerk rejection by starting strong.

Holiday Stories—who doesn’t love ‘em? Learn how to shape a story around the emotions and traditions of the seasons. Publishers are always looking for the next classic.

Come-Alive Fiction is all about creating vivid scenes through natural sounding dialogue, believable action, and realistic settings. Readers want to “participate” in the stories they read and feel they are “there”. We’ll learn how to weave these elements into any story.

50 Shades of Romance isn’t just about erotica or even romance. We’ll discover how romantic elements can add emotion, realism, urgency, and color to a wide variety of story types. Agents often claim that anything with a love story is an easier sale. How can you make the most of this opportunity in your own fiction?

If you have questions, feel free to contact The Writer’s Center: 301-654-8664. And by all means, check out the many other courses and seminars offered at the Center this semester. I’m sure you’ll find something to inspire and inform!

Kathryn Johnson's novel, The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare's "The Tempest" was winner of the 2011 Bookseller's Best Award for Young Adult Novels


Monday, August 26, 2013

Writing About Music Panel Discussion

The Writer’s Center will present a special event Saturday, October 5 bringing together four music journalists to discuss writing about music, with a particular focus on jazz. The program, which has been organized by Willard Jenkins, recipient of the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award in Jazz Journalism from the JazzJournalists Association, takes place from1:00 to 4:00 p.m. at The Writer’s Center, and will be followed by a wine and cheese reception.   

Jenkins notes that the writers will discuss the changing landscape of music journalism: “Music journalism and criticism has evolved over the last 50 years -- particularly with the explosion of pop music in that time -- into its own very distinct writing craft.  Writing about jazz music is one of the oldest and most vibrant branches of the music writing craft that has broadened considerably with new technology and the changing face of hard-copy print media.  Join our panel of print and electronic jazz journalists - with experiences ranging from the Washington Post and the NPR jazz blog, to international magazines and books -- as we explore how writers endeavor to write about the mysteries of music.  As the great Duke Ellington once said, ‘...there are only two kinds of music -- good music and bad music.’"

Writing About Music
1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Saturday, October 5
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815
$15, $10 members, $5 students and military service members

Patrick Jarenwattananon is host of NPR’s A Blog Supreme, which describes itself as “an ongoing conversation about Jazz for both indoctrinated fans and curious listeners.”

Willard Jenkins is Artistic Director of Tri-C JazzFest. His work has appeared in several publications, including JazzTimes, Inside Arts, Down Beat, Schwann Spectrum, Schwann Opus, Jazz Report, Jazz Forum, The Antioch Review, Attache, Jazz Education Journal, and All About Jazz, He has also conducted extensive oral history interviews for the Smithsonian Institution, the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, and 651 Arts

John Murph is a music, art and pop culture journalist based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared  widely in magazines, newspapers, online and on radio, including in JazzTimes, Down Beat, JazzWise, Vibe, the Washington Post, Washington Post Express Washington City Paper, NPR, BET Interactive and the Root Web sites, and on WPFW, 89.3 FM

Michael J. West is a freelance contributor to Washington City Paper, JazzTimes, DownBeat, and The Washington Post. He has also published in  Monterey County Weekly, East Bay Express, A.V. Club (Washington, D.C.), and “A Blog Supreme” on NPR.



Monday, August 19, 2013

Writing Neighborhood Histories

Neighborhoods and their histories can be a rich source of material for writers working in many genres.  We’re fortunate to offer workshops with David Taylor at Hill Center on Capitol Hill and also a new venue for us, Sandy Spring Museum.  As an added bonus, his blog post links to his Washington Post feature article detailing aspects of the life of Joaquin Miller. Miller’s name is kept alive because of a great Washington tradition, the Miller Cabin poetry reading series offered every summer by The Word Works. 

Harlem’s Lenox Avenue, when Ralph Ellison was a writer for the Works Progress Administration

Weaving It All into a Narrative

by David Taylor

Sometimes a story or subject –a personality, a landmark or event – haunts us to track it down through any means we can lay our hands on: manuscripts, biographies, snapshots, even walking tours. And sometimes the narrative that emerges from that hunger can feel more like a quilt than whole cloth. It has a rich texture but still, as a narrative it has to hold together.

One spring day 11 years ago, I took a walk and bus ride across Harlem that gave me the spine of a story about Ralph Ellison’s Harlem for Village Voiceon the 50th anniversary of the publication of his Invisible Man.

Later the contrast of Meridian Hill Park’s position as a forested slope at the edge of DC in 1884, and a Meridian Conference held to establish ground zero for a world clock, gave focus to my article for the Washington Post magazine.

Recently for a new way into the story of the War of 1812, I worked with former National Geographic archivist Mark Collins Jenkins to gather firsthand accounts buried in the Library of Congress – from its manuscripts collection to its Rare Book Room (where white gloves are required) and its regular stacks. I also tagged along with an archaeological dive team in the Patuxent, searching for ships sunk when the British attacked Washington. With these, we stitched together a new picture of that divisive and perilous time, showing a wide range of people and backgrounds caught up in it: African-American freedmen in Maryland, naval clerks at the Washington Navy Yard, spies and runaways, blockade runners, husbands and wives.

For any writer, it’s easy to lose your way among the glittering bits and research. We all need handles for pulling these pieces together and making a textured whole that gives readers a larger, moving narrative. Because even when history is very local, it can be big as life.

So last summer within sight of the Library of Congress we tested a first workshop on Researching and Writing Neighborhood Profiles. It was hands-on and the students turned up a blast of discoveries: lives and hideaways that took us from DC’s Brookland neighborhood to Route 66 and on to the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Our group had wide-ranging curiosity and together we talked through how to tie the strands together. We got help from Sharon Leon of George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media for trying out new tools for historians and storytellers.

This fall we’ll do it again, starting with a one-session workshop at The Hill Center, on September 25. A four-session workshop starts a month later, digging further into these ways of drawing on research for writing powerful local stories and photo essays. I hope you’ll come, share your obsessions and explore how to pull them together.

Finally - though some argue against research for fiction – I find the same process can help fiction writers too (and possibly poets). Many possibilities. We look forward to seeing you at Hill Center or Sandy Spring Museum.


Joaquin Miller, poet of Meridian Hill in the 1880s.

Credits for images:
Joaquin Miller: Library of Congress
Harlem's Lenox Avenue: New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

(We are offering several workshops at Hill Center starting in September.  Click here to see the list, and here to register for David's workshop at Sandy Spring Museum.)