Archive for August, 2010

Hey… I’m posting this because I’ve been getting emails about the specifics of my upcoming “Writing the Smart Page-Turner” class at Grub Street in Boston this fall, which will be taught at Grub Street HQ in downtown Boston Thursday nights 7-10 PM starting on September 16. The gist of the class is–how do you make genre fiction… be it fantasy, science fiction, mystery, suspense, Western, erotica, whatever… literary? Yep, I toss around ideas about what makes certain works both popular and literary. But the class is specifically designed to be useful for the actual writing of novels and short stories. The instruction is practical, not theoretical.

“If only every teacher had the passion of Mike. He brings his rich background of book and film knowledge–and experience–and uses them to create classes that are a joy to attend. His comments on your writing are thoughtful, sincere, and designed to make you strengthen your writing muscles–no matter how developed or atrophied they may be.” John D., former student

The class will consist of detailed workshopping, brainstorming, in-class exercises, and the reading of some pretty great fiction. Here’s a breakdown of the class and what we’ll be reading.

Week 1. What Makes Fiction Popular? OK, what makes something a “Smart Page-Turner”? To warm up, we’ll be picking apart a few of those elements, tricks and techniques that give genre works literary heft. There are three factors that are key to this, and we’ll not just talk about each factor, but look at how they work together. Readings will include Ray Bradbury and a few others.

Week 2. Creating Characters–“Archaeology Without Digging” In this class we’re going to be pinching techniques from top Hollywood screenwriters, acting coaches, journalists and… believe it or not… archaeologists. Creating good, memorable, believable characters can be a daunting challenge, and ruthlessly stealing from other disciplines can give you an awesome toolkit for doing this. Readings will include (non-scary) parts of Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, who, it should be noted, was a top crime reporter before he became a crime fiction writer. We’ll take a close look at how he uses his reporter’s eye to create amazing characters.

Week 3. World Building and Setting In genre fiction, “World Building” is often thought of in terms of how it applies to the creation of imaginary worlds, like Dune or Middle-earth. But the same techniques that are used to create imaginary settings can also be used to create believable, visceral settings for mysteries, espionage stories, cop stories, and vice versa. Building on last week’s lesson, we’ll take a look at how character defines setting, and setting defines character. Readings will include Philip K. Dick, part of a Philip Marlowe story by Raymond Chandler, and Tom Perrotta.

Week 4. Exposition “As you know Bob–my twin brother and fellow operative with whom I grew up in Kansas–our briefing report from HQ summarizes that it is our objective to….” Ever roll your eyes at an expositional groaner like that? How do you get across the background information the reader needs to know without making a botch of it? We’ll go over some elegant techniques that get that information to the reader in ways that the reader at times won’t even notice. Readings will include Andre Dubus, John Cheever, and we’ll take a look at how James Cameron pulls this off in his better screenplays from the 1980s.

Week 5. Dialogue Bad dialogue can kill a great story. We’ll take a look at the work of people who can skillfully tell stories using almost only dialogue, like playwrights and the authors of radio dramas. We’ll see how playwriting techniques can be used in prose form, and also look closely at the work of playwrights who also write for the screen. Authors read will include Norman Wexler, Midnight Cowboy author James Leo Herlihy, and Sarah Kane.

Week 6. Point of View We’ll take a look at how POV actually defines plot, how it determines the narrative arc of a story, and can be used to create suspense. We’ll build on previous lessons to find ways to get deep into a character’s head, and to use that perspective to figure out not just what makes that character tick, but how he or she ticks in his or her world.

Week 7. Plot What is plot? How is what is not told to the reader just as important in the creation of a plot as what is told? Is the narrative climax of a work of fiction the same as its emotional climax? In addition to raking over these questions, we’ll go over some great “hands on” techniques for creating new plots and getting your creative pistons firing. Readings will include Annie Proux and maybe top Batman comic book writer Ed Brubaker.

Week 8. Theme Theme isn’t a one-way street. This session will focus on the ways that the reader contributes to an understanding of Theme right along with the author. We’ll talk about the themes in your fiction, how to develop them and make them dynamic. Readings will include Jack Ketchum and either Rosellen Brown or Tom Reamy.

Week 9. Meeting Weird Editorial Requirements Writers have to meet deadlines and deal with certain themes or topics when solicited, and some themes are just weird, or bewildering, or whacked. We’ll dig in and take a look at real themed anthology guidelines and find ways to cook stories suited for those markets. We’ll also find ways to create stories suited for several specialized markets, and take a look at how specific works have been developed for and sold to specialized anthologies. Readings will include William Faulkner and a few others.

Week 10. How to Work with Editors, Cover Letters, Submitting your Work So… what’s an editor do? What do they look for? The course will close with an examination of fiction that I have myself taken through the editorial process with other writers in my capacity as the Fiction Editor of the online magazine Chiaroscuro ( www.chizine.com ). We’ll also go over ways to submit professionally, and ways to strategize to whom you should send your work and how you should pitch it.

For more information on the class, you can click here. **To sign up, click here.**

**There are still scholarships available for radically reduced tuition. Call Grub Street at 617-695-0075for more information about these scholarships.**

You can contact me directly at profmike AT mindspring DOT com

Thanks stopping by! Hope to see you in the fall!

My short story collection, Stories from the Plague Years is in the final stages of preparation and production from Cemetery Dance Publications. The collection deals thematically with the plagues that killed my friends in the 1980s–urban violence, rage, drugs… and AIDS. I’ve been talking to some younger people who have no idea what this felt like. The terror, the despair, and the anger at polite society that didn’t care that people were dying. Here are snapshots–A False Prophets video for the song “Never Again Again”:

And Diamanda Galas, “Double Barrel Prayer” (which she wrote as an act of mourning for her brother):

Just wanted to let everyone know that I’ll be teaching my “Writing the Smart Page-Turner” class at Grub Street this fall, beginning on September 16th at Grub Street Headquarters in downtown Boston. Classes will meet for 10 Thursday nights from 7 PM to 10 PM. Click here for the official Grub Street listing.

So… what’s a “Smart Page-Turner?” It’s a work of popular fiction that has literary value and punch, and it’s a literary novel with popular appeal. Think about it. We’re living an era when Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union can be nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award and win science fiction’s Nebula and Hugo awards, and it’s also an era when Junot Diaz and Cormac McCarthy can both win Pulitzers for their respective genre-themed novels The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Road. The borders between genre and literary fiction are blurrier than ever, and this class is designed to help you take advantage of that. Whether you’re writing romance, mystery, thrillers, science fiction, erotica, satire, supernatural or suspense, the principles of writing popular fiction – clear prose, characters we can empathize with, and a story that really moves – are key. In this course, I’ll teach you ways to help you get a grip on those principles while helping you develop your owm distinct literary voice. We’ll also be covering practical, “hands-on” considerations–like coming up with strategies to market your fiction, and ways to work with editors and agents.

And what makes me qualified to teach this class? Well, I’m a well-respected author who’s spent his career writing literary genre with two major literary awards to his credit. I’m Fiction Editor at the award-winning magazine Chiaroscuro, where I’ve worked closely with authors honing and streamlining their stories, and it’s this editor’s eye that I’ll bring to the critiquing of your manuscripts. And I’m a nationally syndicated critic for venues like the Syfy Channel’s site Blastr.com and the Public Radio Satellite System show Movie Magazine International. It’s my job to take apart stories and plots and figure out how they do and don’t work.

I’ll be posting more about the class soon, with detailed breakdowns of what I’ll be covering each week and what readings I’ll be assigning.

In the meantime, for more information or for enrollment, you can call Grub Street at 617-695-0075 or *click here to register online *. Registration deadline is Thursday, September 09, 2010. Tuition is $430 for Grub members and $455 for non-members, but scholarships are available for substantially reduced tuition for the next two weeks or so.

To learn more about Grub Street: http://www.grubstreet.org

And if you have specific questions, you can contact me directly at profmike AT mindspring DOT com

Hot damn! Just saw this cool write up at Fangoria about the November release from Cemetery Dance of my upcoming horror and dark SF collection Stories from the Plague Years. You know, any time you’re mentioned in the same breath as Stephen King and Christopher Golden in a major horror publication is pretty damned righteous. I’ll be posting more about Stories from the Plague Years here as the release date approaches– not just about the book itself, but about the “plague” themes that the book tackles.