Episode 87: Yang Huang On Writing On Your Own Terms

Yang Huang

Yang Huang

Yang Huang, author of the Juniper Prize-winning book of short stories, My Old Faithful, joins the GrottoPod this week to discuss a fascinating journey that includes her immigration to the United States as a teen, a career in engineering, an MA and an MFA, raising a family and, along the way, learning English and starting to write fiction. She also delivers, according to guest co-host Lee Kravetz (sitting in for Larry this week), “at least 15 sayings that should be tattoos.” Huang is also the author of a novel, Living Treasures.

“I always thought I would write, on my own terms. Not necessarily something perfect or commercial, but something that was raw and honest. I wanted to tell my stories.”

Episode 86: Kristin Kaye On Writing Mystical Experiences

Kristin Kaye

Kristin Kaye

Kristin Kaye didn’t set out to write a YA book, much less an award-winning YA book, but that’s exactly what happened. This week, the writer of Tree Dreams, one of Buzzfeed’s “5 Books to Read to Prep for Earth Day,” joins the GrottoPod to trace her unlikely path from avant-garde theater impresario to environmental activist and author, stopping off along the way to touch on eco-warriors, breaking our addiction to consumption, jobs that offer health benefits and the multi-dimensional world of women’s body-building. 

“The big question was: how do I write an internal conversation with a tree that sounds like a two-way conversation? How do you give language to a mostly mystical experience?”

9:24: How Tree Dreams became a YA book, and then a curriculum.
14:28: Where the idea to write Tree Dreams came from.
28:18: Kristin’s life before she began writing fiction.
43:48: Having an “environmental awakening.”
58:48: Dividing your time between activism and writing.

Episode 84: Lillian Li On Finding Your Process

Lillian Li

Lillian Li. Photo by Margarita Corporan.

Number One Chinese Restaurant author Lillian Li joins Larry and Lee (subbing again for BQ) in the GrottoPod this week to discuss the many roads that led to her debut novel. She shares her brief-but-intense experience as a waitress, what it’s like writing a beach novel at Panera, and how family, life experience and tradition shaped her writing voice.

“In some ways (my book) is and isn’t inspired by working in a restaurant. I was just trying to get through the day without crying in the walk-in refrigerator at least once.”

10:02: How a panoply of inspirations led to Number One Chinese Restaurant
20:11: Getting into the mind of a male protagonist
24:05: Questions of plot; finding your writing process
33:55: How Li came to see writing as a career instead of a hobby
47:26: Number One Chinese Restaurant’s journey from manuscript to book

Episode 83: Crystal Hana Kim On Making Your First Novel Epic

Crystal Hana Kim

Crystal Hana Kim

For her first novel, author Crystal Hana Kim tackled an epic, multi-narrator love triangle set against the backdrop of the Korean War. She joins Larry and guest host Lee Kravetz in the GrottoPod this week to discuss the challenges of writing If You Leave Me, her love for her characters and how she balances teaching and writing.

“I wanted to write about a woman, because war narratives are so often about men in battle. I wanted to write about what happens when a woman is traumatized by war.”

12:20: Why she chose to pursue both an MFA and an advanced teaching degree, and how training for both is cross-beneficial.
23:40: The origins of If You Leave Me, and how her family — her grandmother, in particular — helped shape the book’s plot and themes.
32:30: How she wove “big issues” into a personal story; finding the balance between setting/backdrop and plot; the challenges of writing an epic story as your first novel.
44:45: Deciding to make her protagonist(s) “frustrating,” and how much stumbling and questionable decision-making is necessary for realism vs. risking alienating readers.

Episode 82: “Writer’s Writer” Fenton Johnson

Fenton Johnson

Fenton Johnson

“Writer’s writer” Fenton Johnson joins the GrottoPod this week for a far-ranging conversation that touches on some of the recurring themes in his work: place, solitude, faith and belonging. Johnson has written six books, including three novels and the memoir Geography of the Heart.

“I believe in writing as rhetoric. The challenge is to do the triple backwards somersault flip where whatever you’re writing is teaching you to convey that to the reader in a way where the reader is engaged and is participating in the process.”

8:36: How searching for “place” and finding one’s way became a theme in Johnson’s work.
17:12: Growing up gay in rural Kentucky, and how a unique background helps form a writer.
26:18: The twisting road of faith and how Catholicism (and the local Trappist monks) can inform an artistic worldview.
33:20: Carrying the weight of growing up in the South into the modern world.
40:08: Leaving Kentucky, heading to California and starting out as a writer.
50:02: “Solitaries,” the Harper’s article and the new book.

Episode 80: Lydia Kiesling On First Novels

Lydia Kiesling

Lydia Kiesling

The Millions editor Lydia Kiesling joins Larry and co-producer Laurie Ann Doyle in the studio this week to chat about Kiesling’s new book, The Golden State — a tale of motherhood, immigration and California, out September 4.

“You have things you want to say. Do you have the correct container to put them in? When I wrote book reviews, I could fit them into essay-shaped things. When I became a parent, I had stuff, but I didn’t have the shape to put it in. A novel was the only shape I could fit it.”

9:50: Discussion of of pre-publication essays and Lydia’s work as editor of The Millions
19:55: “Writing while mothering,” and balancing story with thematic issues
30:42: Structural choices and narrative distance
39:40: Drawing dramatic themes from your own life
45:02: Lydia’s development as a writer

Work In Progress Workshop (with Lindsey Crittenden)


Lindsey Crittenden

Lindsey Crittenden

 

 

 

SATURDAYS, APRIL 30–MAY 21  |  Craving a creative community? Looking for support and accountability?  If you want to write more but find it hard to make the time and find the place – let alone some like-minded colleagues with whom to share feedback and an instructor to keep you going – set aside four Saturday afternoons at the Grotto this spring. Whether starting from scratch, getting beyond the first 10 pages, or wrestling with revision, this workshop will help you reach the next level.

We’ll work to set goals, frame a workable practice that makes sense for you, and hold each other accountable – without blame. Each session will start with a check-in and a writing prompt suitable for generating new material or deepening existing work. We’ll share what we’ve worked on in the intervening week, as applicable, and spend time writing. Not checking Facebook, not catching up on email, not texting. This will be social-media-free zone. I won’t police you, but I’ll do my best to create a safe space that facilitates you meeting your writing goals. We’ll allow time for covering specific craft issues as they come up. I will be available each week for meeting one-on-one. We’ll share work in pairs, small groups, and (as time allows) with the whole class.

The class is designed for writers of all levels.  The only requirement is a desire to work on (or start) a piece of narrative prose – fiction, memoir, personal essay, narrative nonfiction, or some combination thereof, even if you don’t know yet what it is.  If you’re ready to commit to your work in a way that will foster creativity and discipline and take you the next step, this is the place for you.

Lindsey Crittenden is the author of an award-winning short-fiction collection, The View From Below, and a memoir, The Water Will Hold You (“exquisitely written,” Publishers’ Weekly starred review). Her short stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Glimmer Train, Arroyo Literary Review, Best American Spiritual Writing, Pisgah Review, Quarterly West, and other publications.  An Honored Instructor at UC Berkeley Extension, she has taught and helped develop creative writing curriculum for 14 years.

Contact: lindsey@lindseycrittenden.com

Number of sessions: 4

Time: 3:00 pm – 5:30 pm

Dates: Saturdays, April 30; May 7, 14, 21

Course fee: $200 Early Bird rate (before April 15; $220 (after April 15)

Pushing the Boundaries: Experiments in Fiction or Poetry (with Jenny Bitner)


Jenny Bitner

Jenny Bitner

 

 

 

TUESDAYS, APRIL 26–MAY 31  |  What happens when we approach writing like an experiment? Our minds are open, our writing is deep, and there is no room for writers’ block or cliché ideas. Burroughs used cut-up writing, Anais Nin made her diary her art, and now novels are being written in tweets and texts. Each week we will explore different experimental styles from surrealism to postmodernism and do exercises to loosen our minds and push us in new directions with our writing. With daily writing prompts and in-class exercises, this class is great for beginning writers or experienced writers wanting to push their writing in new directions.

Jenny Bitner’s short stories and flash fiction have been published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, PANK, The Sun, Mississippi Review and Fence magazine. She has an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Virginia. She is also a certified hypnotherapist.

Contact: jennybit@yahoo.com

Number of sessions: 6

Time: 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

Dates: Tuesdays, April 26; May 3, 10, 17, 24, 31

Course fee: $390

The Pang in Your Heart: Short Story Workshop (with Elizabeth Bernstein)


Elizabeth Bernstein

Elizabeth Bernstein

 

 

 

MONDAYS, APRIL 18–JUNE 13  |  A short story can knock you flat, it can break your heart, it can make you believe in the world. But how? How can you achieve all that in just a few thousand words? This comprehensive workshop will cover the key elements that make a short story great: plot, character, structure, dialogue, pacing, tension, and more. In class, we’ll explore the short story form using fun in-class exercises, close analysis of weekly readings, handouts, lecture, and discussion. We’ll also talk about how to integrate writing into your life, survive the slush pile, and publish your work. Each student will workshop one of their own stories at length.

The difference between a short story and a novel is the difference between a pang in your heart compared to the tragedy of your whole life. It’s all a matter of how you feel the pain. Read a great story and there it is — right now — in your gut. A novel gives you some time between innings. A story is complete, remorseless.” — Peter Orner

Elizabeth Bernstein is a fiction writer and freelance story editor. Her short stories have been published in McSweeney’s, Tin House, the North Atlantic Review, eleven eleven, the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine, and elsewhere. Her short story “Alice” won first prize in the San Francisco Bay Guardian fiction contest and was optioned by Sneaky Little Sister Films. She founded The Big Ugly Review (www.biguglyreview.com), which was called “a great literary magazine” by Utne Reader. She has an M.A. and M.F.A. in creative writing from San Francisco State University.

Contact: ebernstein@aol.com

Number of sessions: 8

Meeting time: 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

Dates: Mondays, April 18, 25; May 2, 9, 16, 23 (no class Memorial Day, May 30); June 6, 13

Course fee: $495

Kinda True Stories: Turning Your Life Into Fiction (with Jenny Bitner)


Jenny Bitner

Jenny Bitner

 

 

 

THURSDAYS, APRIL 14–MAY 19  |  Is it true or is it fiction – and does it matter? Often the lines between memoir and fiction can be blurry. And most of great literature has at least some elements of truth in it, from books like Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar to modern examples like Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, and Chris Kraus’ and Eileen Myles’ work.

In this class we will explore memories, experiences, and characters from our own lives and turn them into fictional stories, blending the richness of our emotional and felt experiences with elements from our imagination to create compelling writing. We will have writing prompts, in-class exercises, and reading assignments as well as writing assignments due every week.

Jenny Bitner’s short stories, articles and flash fiction have been published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, PANK, The Sun, Men’s Health, Utne Reader, The Mississippi Review, Writing That Risks and Fence magazine. She is working on a memoir and combines autobiographical elements in her fiction. She has an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Virginia.

Contact: jennybit@yahoo.com

Number of sessions: 6

Time: 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

Date: Thursdays, April 14, 21, 28; May 5, 12, 19

Course fee: $390