Writer’s House: Porochista Khakpour

I had not heard of Porochista before the day’s event, but she left quite an impression on me. The group only got to hear a small part of her prose, which I found strong and open, but I’m inclined to hear more, see more. I was able to ask Ms. Khakpour a question, which has been a question that I have struggled with for a long time: “how did you come to your own literary voice? and what does that mean to you?” She seemed to really like the question, and out of it came a large amount of advice. She said that reading was one of the most important aspects of writing. She said that she does not write every day but she does read, always reading. She told me that she came to find her voice by reading like this, and asking along the way, “how does this sound?” “How would I say this?” Often, she said, she would find a match with another author, even from disparate sources, whether it was Stephen Dixon or a fellow student in her graduate program (which she hated). She told me to read, read, read, and also to live. “It is the writer’s job to live,” she said. One must go out into uncomfortable situations, new situations, places where one is not inclined to go to before. Rather than doing the same thing every weekend, go someplace you have not gone before. Don’t worry, she said, about recording everything that happened. Just live.

Porochista said that another part of the author’s job is to “get a little information and then stop, and let the imagination fill in the rest.” She used the example of her brief Google studying rampage that gave her just enough information to write about a feral child in one of her novels. Briefly, Porochista spoke on how writer’s view themselves. Prose writers all seem to have a sort of “butch” nature (to overcompensate for the apparent uselessness of their form), so they compare themselves to bricklayers, people who work with their hands. Porochista looks at how she writes like painting: each sentence is a brush stroke. This liberated me. I felt confined by a sort of teleological goal of my writing, to come to some sort of meaningful end, to give information in the sentences that would allow the reader to catch on. I chose instead to view writing like painting. It matches the emotional experience that I want my writing to be. It is not building a bench, it is painting: I mix paints, try them next to each other, but I have a greater vision in mind, often vague, that each brush stroke works towards. I can only come to write what I want to write, however, by “knowing myself,” through the trying and failing of writing and living. Porochista suggested, as a final “gift,” that each aspiring writer make for themselves a ritual, around reading and writing, which must be done at certain times. That was my first step. Maintaining it, however, is the difficult part.

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“Prowler”

“Prowler” by Elizabeth Tallent is a character driven story. It is very clear from the beginning of the story that “Prowler” is a character driven story. There is no way it could be a plot driven story because there is no clear plot except for the divorce. The way she develops her characters is not through words but through actions. There actually isn’t too much dialogue. Although we only get to see the mind of one character, Dennis, we still get to fully get a grasp of Dennis’ character and woes. Even thought we can read his thought process, Tallent does a wonderful job of showing and not telling the characters and their progress and development and relationship with the other characters.

 

I actually like character driven stories. Therefore I would probably incorporate a lot character driven plots in my writing compared to other perspectives. However, I will still keep an open mind and try other points of views and techniques.

 

 

Amahl and the Night Visitors

Amahl and the Night Visitors is written in second person. It is written in diary form. So it the plot is very one sided and driven by this one character’s point of view. This type of narration could be good or bad. On the one hand, the reader can really delve into the plot and the story and really get to understand the character. We can see what the character is facing and form a personal bond with the character. However, on the other hand, we need to keep in mind that this character’s point of view is not the only point of view and that their perspective could be wrong, skewed or just completely different from someone else who could have been there at the time. Of course, this would be an entirely different piece of work if we got to see other people’s points of view. I am not sure if it is the way the author writes or the facts that it is written in second person or a bit of both that makes the story seem very dark and mundane. The structure is very confusing and in the form of a diary. It makes sense that the structure of the story is choppy if it was meant to be in diary form because diaries tend to be very messy and all over the place.

Personally, writing the entire story in diary form could be an interesting technique that I could use. However, I think I might want to shift to other people’s perspective because clearly she was wrong in certain parts of the story. Even though the author probably did this intentionally, I would have loved to see other points of view and other perspectives. Also, I don’t think I have written in second person that often. Second person seems like it is tabooed or something because most people write in third or first person. Even teachers in school kept telling us to avoid second person type writing. So, to incorporate only second person writing would definitely be pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

Outside Reading Response 2

The second outside reading I attended was supposed to be a Writers house Skype session with Bret Anthony Johnston on I believe it was November 27th in Murray room 302 once again. Unfortunately he flaked on the writer’s house program so they got someone else to Skype in last minute.

The Skype session was with Alethea Black. She’s the author of many short stories and other books that are either full novels or collections of stories. I think her most famous work is I Knew You’d Be Lovely. I believe it is a collection of short stories. I certainly enjoyed this outside reading a lot more than the first one I went to. This one was a lot more personable because Alethea skyped in not so she could read some of her work or make it all about her instead she took questions from professors and students in the crowd about how she got published, her writing processes, what advice she would give to upcoming writers. In fact she even included her dog in the Skype session because she would not stop barking.

There was pizza and drinks there, which was great for me that day because I had skipped breakfast and I was starving. It was a very chill and laid back an environment. She made herself feel like she was all of our friends and didn’t act pretentious or entitled. It was great. I really enjoyed her story. She actually didn’t get to writing later on in her life in like her late 30s which I thought was very unique. I guess with creative writing it’s never too late to pick the pen or charge your laptop and create a piece of writing that could go on to be a successful published book.

The most interesting thing about this session was definitely her story on how her book was noticed and published. Originally she had written I think it was one or a few short stories and submitted them for publication. One thing lead to another and then her few short stories was to be turned into a collection so she had to complete the book for publication. She spoke of how she acquired a literary agent by looking around for all the ones she heard good things about. It just so happened that her number one choice agent actually wanted her as a client. She said it’s great to have an agent because they are always looking out for, for example her agent now tried to secure movie rights for her book which I think is pretty awesome. Imagine if her book was to actually be made into film? I wonder how much money she would make from it.

I definitely enjoyed this writers house program because it presented the business side of creative writing and I feel like that’s something that is very neglected by us upcoming writers. I realized I wasn’t as informed about the publishing world as I should be. This was for sure an eye opening experience.

Outside Reading Response 1

The first outside reading I attended was a poetry reading by Josh November and Joanna Furham on Thursday, November 6th in Murray room 302.

A little about the Joanna Furham she is the author of five books of poetry, she chose to read from her more recent chapbook at this reading. It is titled The Emotive Function. She actually has another book on the way as well. She has been published in many journals other anthologies. I don’t recall any of the poems she read out loud specifically but I do remember her poems being stranger than usual. She had a very abstract and trippy way of understanding concepts. Her poetry was like a collection of random bizarre words and images that she brought together to make one “cohesive” poem. It was very hard to really understand what her poetry was really about. I was only able to decipher a few of the images. She has one specific poem that I think was about her accepting the fact that she will never have babies and in the poem she mentions about visiting a “baby library” to see what it would be like to have a baby. I thought it was very odd that she would create the concept of a baby library. What would that even look like? One thing I did appreciate about her was her performance, it was very good and smooth. Apparently I found out later on that her poems are supposed to be funny but no one was atctually laughing. I guess she wasn’t that funny.

Joshua November is the author of God’s Optimism, which won the MSR Poetry Book Award and was named a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in Poetry, Autumn House Poetry Prize, and Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. He too as been published in many reviews and journals. He was won other name awards and he actually teaches at Rutgers and another college as well. I thought his reading skills were a bit rough. He was very monotone and it made his poems sound kind of boring. His poetic style was very specific because he write narratives poems, and they are about his point of view. I believe he is a hacidic jew so his poems topics were about things that related to his lifestyle. His poems were okay, one that really stuck out to me was one he had called Self-Potrait. He did a great job with the imagery and portraying himself along with his family and the other things that he believes define him.

This was actually my first poetry reading I ever attended that was held by the writers house. There were about two more classes that were there because their classes required them too. I think it’s interesting, it’s definitely beneficial to us student writers that someday hope to be where these poets are. I really liked that you can ask them anything, although I didn’t have any specific questions at the time. I probably should have asked them how they first got published. Overall, it was an interesting experience.

“Open Me”

I thought “Open Me” by Lee Stoops is a really interesting way to write a short story. The story is made up of entirely dialogue. I think it is effective because there still is a plot line and it might actually be slightly more realistic if you consider the fact that it is two people just talking to one another. It is more conversational making it easier to bounce back and for the from idea to idea. However, it does lack setting and character development. We do see certain traits of certain characters in the dialogue and we can assume things about each character. I am assuming that it is a girl and boy most likely husband and wife. I think the story is successful in telling the what is going on in the scene but I am slightly annoyed because I have no idea who the two people who are talking to each other are. It might just be because I like knowing my characters. I do not even think the story tells us whether if one is a boy or girl. However, if we think about it, the author probably wrote it in this form on purpose forcing the reader to have their own set of ideas and points of view. I think I would probably want to try writing piece that is entirely of dialogue with no background information.

Short Story & Novel

Short Story & Novel, is an essay written by Elif Batuman. In it, one of the main points that he writes about, is that people need to start writing long novels, rather than focusing on shorter pieces of work, like the short-story or flash-fiction mediums. On one hand, I do agree somewhat with his points, but on the otherhand I also have to disagree.

What makes a novel memorable for me, is the whole package. I read a lot of fiction, and mainly fantasy fiction, so unlike some other author’s, writers of fantasy need to try extra hard to suspend my disbelief and stop me from questioning their work. So if an author can whisk me away to a world filled with creatures that can breath and talk, and that may or may not be human, than they’ve already succeeded in that aspect. The rest comes from the characters, the plot, and the setting of the story. And that’s really what makes a novel memorable for me. No one likes bland characters, no one like rehashed settings, and no one likes boring plots.

Finishing a novel can be rewarding in the aspect, that, at it’s completion, it can feel like finishing a journey. Because oftentimes you really need to invest yourself in reading the novel, where unlike a short-story, you may only know a character for all of twenty minutes. With a novel, you can spend days, or weeks, or months (depending on the length of the novel, and the speed at which a person reads, of course) and you get more emotionally attached to them. On the flipside however, sometimes authors might not really get to the point of their book until well into the middle of the story, and people are very easily put off by having to read through a hundred pages of “set-up” so that they can finally get to the end.

My personal opinion, is that neither medium is inherently better than the other, and that, while I myself personally enjoy lengthier novels more than short stories, or pieces of flash fiction, I do realize there’s an audience for everything. So with that in mind, neither one or the other should be disregarded by authors looking to write and express themselves.

Amahl and the Night Visitors

In terms of this story in particular, I believe the main reason it’s presented as a point-of-view story, is the way in which it is written. The story is not a traditional narrative, but rather, it’s presented as multiple diary entries that the main character has written. And this in and of itself is primarily the reason as to why this story is driven through point of view. Because the story is told from a second-person perspective. Anything and everything we, as readers, know about the events that are transpiring, the setting, the plot, anything at all, is because Tracy has told it to us. And that’s the thing about the second person (and I believe also for first person) is that sometimes the narrator can be unreliable, because they can either omit certain details (either purposefully or because they are unaware of those certain details themselves) or color our perception of events with their own biases.

In terms of my own writing, I often find myself (especially in this class) writing in the first or second person. However, something I didn’t really consider (which I am now considering, after having read this story), is the whole issue of reliability of the narrator. And I think something that I might try to do with my own writing, after thinking about this whole issue at length, is perhaps trying to write an unreliable narrator on purpose and see whether or not I can mislead readers, or hide the truth while making the narrator seem reliable on the surface.

Outside Reading Opportunity 2

For the second outside reading opportunity, I watched Craftwork with Jennifer Egan. Her panel was interesting as she mentioned something within the first minute that related to me completely. She said that when she writes her first draft, she does it “unconsciously”. She really lets her ideas down on the paper and sorts out the mess later, it’s something that I feel makes the creative process much more enjoyable and allows the story to feel more organic.

She goes on to talk about characterization and about the ways that characters interact with other parts of fiction. She poses the question, how can we suggest a whole human being. Jennifer immediately follows that up with the idea that consistency is not good for character development as it takes some parts away of what it means to be human. Humans are filled with surprises and spontaneity, to deprive your characters of the same aspect of human nature makes the reader disinterested in your story. Without surprises it becomes a fairly boring story. Characters that have consistency to them feel familiar, so familiar that we are able to put them into a category with other characters based on the same personality type. Meeting the same characters over and over again but with different names can really drag down a story.

During her talk about character consistency, she raises a point that it messes with time after a certain point within the novel. After a while it is hard to believe that a person would make the same choices given the same situation. People tend to grow throughout their lifetime, and characters within a story are no exception. So it is ridiculous to impose the idea that these character’s personalities are immune to the effect of time. That being said, Jennifer cites Jane Austin as an example of a writer who enjoys dealing with consistent characters, and implementing them successfully into a story. Jane Austin’s successful implementation of consistent characters really shows that fiction is very flexible in its design. But since Jane is one of the fair few who can do this successfully, Jennifer suggests that surprise and contradiction are easier concepts to work into your character development.

Another topic that Jennifer touched upon was initial characterization, which is a form of introduction of the character through “two way description”. The character is being described through a brief overview of some of their preferences, and Jennifer stressed that contradiction can give all the information that we need to know about the specific character in a short period of time. There are certain times where the writer cannot give a very descriptive back story for the reader to accurately tell the reader how this character was influenced. Sometimes the writer can only give bits and pieces of choices that the character has made throughout their life, and allow the reader to fill in the blanks. I found her lecture on how to improve as a writer to be really interesting, she expanded on a fair amount of concepts and even disproved the idea that consistency is good for your characters. She spoke clearly and had many different works and writers to cite from to reinforce her ideas.

“Skin Picking” by Cameron Sidhe

an archaeology of the human body

That’s how the undergraduate begins this poem. He (she?) starts and carries through a great balance of messy human anxiety and cold vocabulary. It’s not a great poem, but it’s about as good as anything else in the 2014 edition of The Monchila Review. I liked it a lot. One of the difficulties of reading young writers – I shouldn’t talk – is that there’s an insufferable youth to their writing. It’s new, it’s green, it’s not so honed. What’s particularly unfortunate is that a great magic in the human condition has to do with being young. Undergraduates have the ability to distill that magic into their work by merit of being young. It’s difficult for adults to write themselves back into youth. It’s even harder for young people to write themselves into old age. But this distillation of vibrant, green youth suffuses each piece in this collection; unfortunately, that liquid magic often arrives in a soup of blunt, narrow-minded, self-obsessed, inconsiderate, and ingratiated prose and poetry; again, I shouldn’t talk. “Skin Picking” is a poem that displays a degree of command over English and over poetic form; in that way I’m not distracted by the poem. It’s no great success as a poem or piece of English, but the fact that I’m not distracted by its formal dimensions allows me to really get in and listen to the speaker. At that point, it becomes a touching and heartfelt poem, that’s definitely worth a read. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B61mG5611E8jT3lCWkxacmZaRU0/edit it’s on page 57.