Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Hi, Everyone!

Below is a tentative list of topics and readings for my upcoming Master Class in Popular Fiction at Boston’s Grub Street, which will meet for 10 Mondays at Grub Street HQ in downtown Boston from 6:30 to 9:30 starting on September 19.

There’s a lot more here than will be assigned, but these are the things I’m thinking about. I’ll be making final decisions over the next few weeks. Some works will make the final cut. Some won’t. But here’s the lay of land as it exists right now. For the most part, we’ll be reading the first few opening chapters (or scenes, in the case of plays and screenplays) of longer, full-length works.

Having said that though, we’ll be reading two novels in their entirety. One will definitely be Daphne du Maurier‘s  classic Rebecca. Then we’ll either read Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs (if not in its entirety, then a good chunk of it; if you’re squeamish, you can skip the scary parts!) or Michael Crichton‘s Jurassic Park (if not in its entirety, then a good chunk of it) or one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels (if not in its entirety, then a good chunk of it).

1. Writing with Purpose

Ever find yourself reading something written by an author who just doesn’t feel involved or invested in his or her work? We’ll look at writers who really know how to sink their teeth into their material, and find ways to emulate their focus and intent.

A short story by Robert E. Howard (don’t know which one, yet!); Rex Miller, Slob; Daphne du Maurier Rebecca

2.Suspense and Tension

What the hell is suspense? What the hell is tension? We’re told they’re important to maintain. But what are they made of? What are their components? We’ll take a look.

Daphne du Maurier Rebecca (con’t); Tracy Letts‘ play BUG; one of Lee Child‘s Reacher novels; Mark Boal‘s screenplay for The Hurt Locker.

3. What’s NOT Said

Since this is an advanced class, we’ll assume you have some of the basics of dialogue down. What we’re going to look at here is how some writers are really good at communicating dumptrucks full of emotional information by what is not said, through their ability to decide what their characters are holding back or are saying ambiguously.

Daphne du Maurier Rebecca (con’t); David Mamet‘s play, Oleanna; John Patrick Shanley’s play and screenplay Doubt; Judith Guest, Ordinary People and Alvin Sargent & Nancy Dowd‘s screenplay for the film, Ordinary People.

4. Satire and Hyperbole

When you take something emotionally real and blow it up, you’re using the same tool that humorists use, even when you’re not writing about something particularly funny. We’ll look at the ways that satire and hyperbole can be used to be funny and tragic.

Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One; a short story by P. G. Wodehouse; John Le Carre, maybe Absolute Friends  or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Russell Braddon, The Year of the Angry Rabbit.

5. Pacing

What?! There’s a freakin’ asteroid heading to downtown Los Angeles, and this author decides to hobble the flow by throwing in a love scene? NO! We’ll look at ways to keep the action and the narrative moving.

David Morrell, First Blood or The Totem; Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, or From Russia, with Love or Live and Let Die.

6. Using Stanislavsky

Actors have a whole bunch of great tools to get into character’s heads. So… why can’t authors use those tools, too?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs.

7. The Unreal City

To really use an urban setting, even to use it in a work of realism, you have to tap a really unique sense of the unreal. Poets like Baudelaire and TS Eliot figured this out. And so have a few really great prose authors.

Peter Straub, “A Short Guide to the City”; Hubert Selby, Last Exit to Brooklyn or The Demon; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs (con’t).

8. The Wilderness

When you have characters in the wilderness, the real struggle isn’t always with the external wilderness, but the inner one. We’ll look at ways to tap that struggle.

Robert B. Parker, Wilderness; Michael Chricton, Jurassic Park; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs (con’t).

9. Come to Your Senses!

We live in a media environment that’s defined by sound and images coming out of screens and speakers. A lot of writers have let their other sense atrophy, so that it feels like they’re just writing screenplays in prose form. We’ll look at ways to use the other senses we have to punch up our storytelling.

Patrick Süskind, Perfume; Elizabeth Kata, A Patch of Blue.

10. Negative Space

“Negative space” is a technique filmmakers use to define something important by surrounding it with emptiness, by letting the void around the important thing in a shot give it defining shape. We’ll look at ways to use this concept in writing, to make things that are not there in the prose more important, and meaningful, than the things that are there.

Bonnie Jo Campbell, a story from her collection American Salvage; Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man.

To get more information about enrollment, you can check out the Grub Street page dedicated to the class here.  If you want to know about some of my teaching strategies, click here. To find out a bit more about me, click here. If you have any specific questions about the class, e-mail me directly at profmike  AT  mindspring DOT  com

Just wanted to to announce my NEW class at Boston’s Grub Street, one of the largest independent centers for creative writing in the United States. This will be officially published on the Grub Street website soon. But here’s a preview! I’ll also be publishing a more detailed overview here, soon.

Master Class in Popular Fiction

10 Mondays from 6:30-9:30pm at Grub Street headquarters in Downtown Boston, near the Park Street Subway Stop. Begins September 19th.

Description:

This class will give serious writers of short and novel-length popular fiction a versatile, practical tool-kit for adding literary dimensions to their work–be it SF, Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Satire, etc. Intended for students who are preparing or ready to submit their work professionally, the emphasis of this class, taught by an experienced editor, award-winning author and critic, will be on peer workshopping, creating viable strategies for submitting your work to the right venues, lectures and in-class exercises. Issues such as pacing and structuring of scenes will be covered. Works of smart, novel-length popular fiction will be closely examined in whole or in part in order to demonstrate ways in which specific tools taught in class can be applied. Some works of pop fiction will be examined as demonstrations of what not to do. There will also be lessons on re-purposing the story-telling techniques of playwrights, screen and television writers to prose fiction. Participation in this class is by submission only. To apply, please submit a 10-15 page novel excerpt or sample of short fiction to rowan@grubstreet.org by 12:00pm on Wednesday, August 31st.

WAIT! Can it be? A new Grub Class from Mike? REVENGE of the Smart Page-Turner! IT’S TRUE! More details coming soon, but in the meantime, here’s the Grub Street listing:

http://tinyurl.com/2vb9a8s

A big, beautiful box of my comp copies of Stories from the Plague Years just arrived from Cemetery Dance. They’re gorgeous. Gabrielle Faust’s unbearably lovely illustrations look incredible on the nice, heavy stock paper. As a writer, you live for moments like this.

Hey!

My very dear friend Nancy Santos came by my place and snapped a few pics of me signing the signature sheets for Cemetery Dance Publication’s limited hardback edition of my collection Stories from the Plague Years.

I’m not the only one who signed the book. Cyberpunk icon John Shirley, who wrote the Introduction, also signed the sig sheets, as did Garbrielle Faust, who did the interior illustrations and dust jacket (as well as the totally righteous art on the sig sheet itself).  It’s pretty gorgeous. You can check it out below. The book will be shipping soon.

I’ve been writing professionally since about 1992. And I have to tell you, I NEVER get sick of this–the first moment you hold something you’ve written as a physical artifact. It’s always a rush. It’s always a thrill. Brian Freeman at Cemetery Dance Publications just sent along one of two existing advance copies of my collection Stories from the Plague Years. It’s gorgeous. Yeah, I’m saying that as a proud papa. But beyond that, the binding, the paper,  Bob Morrish’s layout and Gabrielle Faust’s beautiful cover and interior illustrations are sublime. My crappy camera phone doesn’t do it justice, but here’s a pic.

My collection Stories from the Plague Years recently got a really nice review from YA horror author Daniel Kraus in Booklist:

Few horror authors are better equipped to write about madness than Marano. With an expansive vocabulary, a tenacious commitment to poetic prose, and a willingness to follow whatever discursive paths his whim takes, Marano is an acquired taste—but without doubt possessed of a unique talent. He’s at his best when striving for clarity, as in “Displacement,” the novella that anchors this book of short stories. Dean is a serial killer describing the brutal justice he handed out to those whose emotional poisons gave him a deadly cancer. It’s a tale that takes several unexpected and delicious turns, somehow combining a Poe-like belligerence and a Clive Barker–like vividness with pop-culture touchstones as commonplace as Sex and the City and Dr. Phil. The other, mostly first-person stories are hit and miss, but when they hit, they hit big: “Burden,” about the ghosts of an AIDS-ravaged gay community, possesses an unusual power, and “Little Round Head,” about a feral child raised by subterranean beasts, is nothing short of a horror classic. –Daniel Kraus

If you think I’m not stealing “Few horror authors are better equipped to write about madness than Marano”  as a tagline, you’re nuts!  Stories from the Plague Years will be coming out soon. It’s selling out fast at Cemetery Dance Publications, but you can still order copies here.

Thanks for stopping by! Have a good New Year!

Yes! My collection from Cemetery Dance Publications, Stories from the Plague Years, is now available for pre-order! What blows my mind is that the book is 60% sold out on the first day that it’s available for pre-order.

 

It’s moments like this that writers live for, y’know?

I’ll be posting more about the book, which features gorgeous art work from Gabrielle Faust and an Introduction by John Shirley. Thanks, everyone! Your support means so much to me…. –Mike

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):