The Raconteur Writing Workshop is a mix of vocal publishing, round-table evaluation, and author/industry visits. I’m blessed with a large network of successful friends, and in addition to my instruction, participants are taught, too, by a range of very accomplished guests. The visits provide participants with candid access to heralded writers, editors, and agents (from all over the country), giving them an interactive opportunity to ask questions about the various talents, skills, and traits that contribute to acclaim.
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“Vocal publishing” of idividual work is followed by roundtable discussions/critical evaluation. Each participant will have at least one opportunity to workshop.
In The Spooky Art, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Norman Mailer talked about crisp words “clamping down…sticking.” In an interview shortly before his death, Noir author Raymond Chandler spoke of perfectly pitched sentences “walking off the page.” Despite using opposing metaphors, they are obviously describing the same thing. Good writing. A key focus of the class is this acoustical quality. The profound difference between how a sentence sounds and its mute presence on the page. Accordingly, a significant amount of time is dedicated to declaiming work. Participants are not, however, permitted to read their own work (rather their work is to be read aloud by a mix of other participants). The writer then becomes a critical part of the evaluating audience for his own piece, commonly noticing the same literary stumbles (and moments of grace) as his peers.
“Target writers” must provide the class with individual copies of a writing sample (3 -5 pgs) at the beginning of their scheduled workshop. Excerpts should be double spaced pages (12-pt, Times New Roman) and printed on plain white paper. If you have questions about your work that you would like the group to address, note those questions at the end of the piece.
As work is declaimed, evaluators should note strengths and missteps on the hard copy. Evaluating students will then have five minutes to review the piece and sharpen their critiques, which will be used as springboards for subsequent discussion. Following the discussion, hard copies will be returned to the target writer for consideration.
Thoughtful evaluations of peer excerpts teach writers to be critical readers of their own work. Do not assess peer work in the context of emotion or absolutes, “love” and “hate,” “good” and “bad,” instead address what is successful (and why) and what you think could be improved (and how). You don’t owe the writer praise, but you do owe them attention and thoughtful written/verbal comment. Be critical but kind. Be hard on the writing not the writer.
Note: I strongly recommend that participants also share and discuss writing via e-mail and extracurricular rendezvous. Ideally this workshop should provide participants with a valuable confederacy of readers/writers, like-minded artists struggling with similar challenges, celebrating similar triumphs.
Digital or in-person visits/Q&As with working authors or other industry professionals (visits will be confirmed one week prior, relevant excerpts and/or essays by/or concerning the guest will be recommended the week before in preparation for the visit).
Past guests have included Time Magazine book critic Lev Grossman (The Magicians, The Magician King); Harvard’s Director of Creative Writing Bret Anthony Johnston (Corpus Christi, Remember Me Like This); Caldecott winning author/illustrator Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck); editor/publisher Jason Rekulak (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies); agent-at-large Arielle Eckstut (The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published); agent Renee Zuckerbrot, managing editor Johanna Ingalls (Akashic), YA novelist Aaron Starmer (The Riverman), travel writer Rolf Potts (Vagabonding, The Best American Travel Writing); novelist Sheila Kohler (Cracks, Bay of Foxes); novelist, playwright, Marvel comic book writer Clay McLeod Chapman (The Tribe, The Pumpkin Pie Show), and short story writers Megan Mayhew Bergman (Birds of a Lesser Paradise; The Best American Short Stories) and Alethea Black (I Knew You'd Be Lovely), among others.
The workshop also considers the practical product of writing i.e. “the book” and its pragmatic launch (via traditional, independent, or private print publishing and/or e-book) into the reading world.
I position myself as a coach not a judge. My students have total propriety over their work. They own their stories. They are Writers first, students of writing second.