Stealing From the Masters: Using Existing Models to Craft Your Short Fiction (with Lindsey Crittenden)


Lindsey Crittenden

Lindsey Crittenden

Contact: lindsey@lindseycrittenden.com

Course fee: $225

Number of sessions: 2

Dates and times: Saturday, August 8 (10:30 am – 4:30 pm) & Sunday, August 9 (1:30 pm – 4:30 pm)

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

This two-day course will explore the implications of this statement for anyone interested in fiction writing.  (And no, we’re not talking about plagiarism.) You’ll find practical solutions and inspiration by looking at such models as newspaper headlines, fairy tales and myth, short-story classics, and non-narrative forms such as recipes and to-do lists.  You’ll examine stories such as David Foster Wallace’s “Good People” and Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” with an eye to what their writers have “stolen” and how they’ve made their tributes fresh.  We’ll analyze elements of craft and voice as ways to navigate the risks of parody and imitation. Using prompts, students will do legitimate “stealing” and will finish the two sessions with a first draft of new story and concrete plans for going further. This workshop is suitable for writers who’ve never written fiction as well as those looking for new creative approaches to a familiar genre.

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 twelve years.

Plaracterization: Marry Plot and Character (with Joshua Mohr)


Joshua Mohr

Joshua Mohr

Contact: joshuamohr76@gmail.com

Number of sessions: 1

Time: 10:00 am -1:00 pm

Date: Saturday, July 25

Course fee: $75

The best plots aren’t controlled by the author. They spring from the characters themselves. The writer masterminds all things, yes, but the more we as writers realize that our characters are sovereign beings with independent consciousnesses, the better prepared we are to traverse what Joshua Mohr calls plaracterization.

Plot + characterization = PLARACTERIZATION.

Get it?

In this one-day workshop, we’ll ponder characters’ decision-making, the causality between plot points, and how to keep a reader excitedly flipping pages. We’ll also delve into specific tactics for constructing a present action, and how to fold backstory into it.  During the session, there will also be writing exercises and the opportunity to share your work with others.  Plaracterization is an exciting strategy that will help any aspiring writer, by getting you to dig deep down into your characters, your plot, and the very DNA of your story!

Joshua Mohr is the author of four novels including Damascus, which the New York Times called “Beat-poet cool.”  He’s also written Fight Song and Some Things that Meant the World to Me, one of O Magazine’s Top 10 Reads of 2009 and a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller, as well as Termite Parade, a New York Times Editors’ Choice.  His novel All This Life is due out this summer from Counterpoint/Soft Skull.

Craft of Fiction and Memoir: Building Vibrant Characters (with Joshua Mohr)


Joshua Mohr

Joshua Mohr

Contact: joshuamohr76@gmail.com

Number of sessions: 1

Time: 10:00 am-1:00 pm

Date: Sunday, June 28

Course fee: $75

Great literature is always about the main players.  Charismatic protagonists stay with readers long after finishing a text.  Yet most aspiring writers wonder: how do our imagined people morph into “real” ones?  Why is it that my characters feel so flat, passive, and obvious on the page, whereas Salman Rushdie and Alice Munro have brought theirs to life?

In this course—appropriate for short story writers, novelists, and memoirists—we’ll learn ways to dig up the secrets of our characters.  We’ll unearth the unknown inside their hearts, minds, and souls, their presents and pasts.  Via directed-writing, peer response, and exploratory exercises meant to help you build familiarity with your players, students will get to know their own characters in exciting ways.

Joshua Mohr is the author of four novels including Damascus, which the New York Times called “Beat-poet cool.”  He’s also written Fight Song and Some Things that Meant the World to Me, one of O Magazine’s Top 10 Reads of 2009 and a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller, as well as Termite Parade, a New York Times Editors’ Choice.  His novel All This Life is due out this summer from Counterpoint/Soft Skull.

Writing Family Stories (with Susan Ito)


Susan Ito

Susan Ito

Contact: susanito@mac.com

Number of sessions: 5

Time: 6:30 pm-9:00 pm

Dates: Thursdays, July 9, 16, 23, 30, and August 6

Course fee: $300

Whether you want to tell your family’s history or write a memoir based on your grandmother’s life, your child’s birth story or a fictional account of your distant cousin’s escapades, this class will help you to shape those family tales into compelling, polished stories. Start with memories or bits of family lore and learn how to develop characters, identify structure and themes, and craft these personal threads into memorable pieces of writing. We will study examples of excellent family-based writing, as well as the inner challenges that published authors have faced when revealing family.

Susan Ito is author of The Mouse Room, a SheBooks memoir. She co-edited the anthology A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption (North Atlantic Books) and her essay appeared in the anthology Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards & Rewards of Writing Family. She is a creative nonfiction editor at Literary Mama, and her work has appeared in Growing Up Asian American, Choice, Hip Mama, The Bellevue Literary Review, Making More Waves and elsewhere.

Fiction Workshop: Novel and Short Story (with Natalie Baszile)


Natalie Baszile

Natalie Baszile

Contact: nbaszile@gmail.com

Number of sessions: 6

Time: 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm

Dates: Tuesdays, June 23, 30, July 7, 14, 21, 28

Course fee: $375

The best fiction transports us.  We open to the first page of a novel or short story and the world falls away.  We will begin each session with a craft talk.  We’ll examine characterization, conflict, plot, and other elements that make for compelling storytelling. Then we will move into intensive, supportive workshopping of student stories and opening novel chapters. This course is best suited for students who already have a work in progress.

Natalie Baszile is the author of the debut novel Queen Sugar, soon to be adapted into a TV series by writer/director Ava DuVernay of Selma fame, and co-produced by Oprah Winfrey for OWN, Winfrey’s cable network. Queen Sugar was named one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Best Books of 2014, was long-listed for the Crooks Corner Southern Book Prize, and nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Natalie has a M.A. in Afro-American Studies from UCLA and holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers. Her nonfiction work has appeared in The Rumpus.net, Mission at Tenth, The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 9, and O: The Oprah Magazine.

Fiction Workshop: Magical Realism (with Jenny Bitner)


Jenny Bitner

Jenny Bitner

Contact: jennybit@yahoo.com

Number of sessions: 6

Time: 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm

Dates: Mondays, July 6, 13, 20, 27, August 3, 10

Course fee: $385

Why is so much of contemporary literature playing with the boundaries of what is real and fantasy? Maybe because our own world often borders on the surreal.  Speculative fiction, magical realism, slipstream, fabulist—there are many names for the forms of writing that blend the imaginary and real world. In this class we will read from this genre (authors such as George Saunders, Aimee Bender, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Franz Kafka, Margaret Atwood) and write our own stories with elements of the surreal. Daily writing prompts and weekly writing assignments will help you blend the imaginary and the real to uncover deeper truths.

Jenny Bitner’s short stories and flash fiction have been published in anthologies and literary magazines including Best American Nonrequired Reading, Writing That Risks, The Fabulist, PANK,  The Sun, Mississippi Review and Fence magazines. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Virginia. She is working on a speculative (magical realist?) novel about a woman in San Francisco who has a child with an alien. You can find links to her writing at jennyart.com

Said and Unsaid: Dialogue in Fiction and Memoir (with Laurie Ann Doyle)


Laurie Ann Doyle

Laurie Ann Doyle

Contact: doyle.l@berkeley.edu

Number of sessions: 1

Time: 10:00 am–4:00 pm (includes break for lunch)

Date: Sunday, May 17

Course fee: $75

Is dialogue meant to reveal or conceal? In this interactive one-day workshop, you learn dialogue actually accomplishes both, revealing your characters by what is said and not said in fiction and memoir. We’ll read work by masters of dialogue, examining how artfully crafted speech, gesture, and silence helps you not only develop character, but generate tension, subtext, and move the plot forward. You’ll learn how to take full advantage of your characters’ expressive tics, favorite phrases, and complete withdrawal to build an immersive world for the reader. As the workshop progresses, you’ll have the chance to free-write dialogue yourself, trying on different personas of talkative, quiet, and completely uncommunicative characters, with the opportunity to share what you’ve created in a supportive atmosphere. There’s also plenty of time to address your questions and concerns. My twin goals for this workshop are for you to come with concrete strategies for creating a variety of kinds of dialogue, and to experience for yourself what writers like to keep secret: dialogue can be a whole lot of fun.

Laurie Ann Doyle is the winner of Alligator Juniper’s National Fiction Award, as well as nominations for Best New American Voices and the Pushcart Prize. Her stories, personal essays and poems have appeared in Jabberwock Review, Arroyo Literary Review, Dogwood Journal, Under the Sun, and many other literary journals. She earned an MFA at University of San Francisco and has had the pleasure of teaching creative writing at UC Berkeley since 2007. www.laurieanndoyle.com