As much as it pains me to write this, Winter with Writers is over for the year. Thursday night’s final reading was an appropriate sendoff for what has been a memorable journey through the world of literature. Lydia Peele read first half of the titular story from her award winning book of short stories, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing. She was followed by the second author of the evening, Rhonda Pollero. Pollero shared with us a passage from her forthcoming book and the latest addition to the Finley Anderson Tanner series of popular detective novel, Slightly Irregular. The new book is due out sometime this year. Both authors then took to the stage and answered questions from the audience. Following the Q and A, audience members had the opportunity to purchase personal copies of both author’s works and then to have them signed. If you have enjoyed this year’s Winter with Writers we thank you for your support and hope to see you next year.
Last week, Winter with the Writers hosted its first playwright, and this week, the festival hosted its first genre fiction author, Rhonda Pollero. At 4pm today, students and faculty gathered to observe the master class conducted by Pollero, which took place shortly after Lydia Peelle’s master class. Pollero gave all of the interns complimentary copies of a booklet entitled “Writing to Sell”, as well as a folder containing a meticulously edited copy of each intern’s short story. At the start of the class, Pollero instructed us to identify a section of our story that we could change based on her comments, and then a few of the interns (including myself) volunteered to read our original section, followed by the edited section.
Rather than pick apart each story on stage, Pollero addressed our stories based on generalities. For example, she stressed the importance of active language, showing rather than telling, and ubiquitous dialogue tagging and dialect. According to Pollero, a third or so of the way through a novel, tagging dialogue becomes unnecessary, since the voice of each character needs to be distinct enough so the reader can easily identify the speaker. Pollero gave us advice not only about writing strategies to employ, but also about the world of publishing and editing. First and foremost, all editing happens on the computer; hence the Microsoft Word generated Track Changes that we received in our folders. She discussed the pros and cons of having an agent, such as that an agent enables the author to be able to communicate with her editor and publisher without having to worry about the details of the contract.
“Criticism is an important part of writing. You have to have a thick sin, since nobody likes being told their baby is ugly,” said Pollero at one point during the session. This, and other comments like it, kept the audience and interns entertained as we learned about the different facets of fiction writing, and how to succeed in a commercial fiction career.
Today at 2pm, Lydia Peelle conducted a relaxed but informative masterclass in Woolson House. There was concern about whether many people would show up, due to the change in time and location, but the turn out was excellent. Peelle read an excerpt from each of the seven students’ work, choosing to focus on the parts in which the students’ best conveyed a sense of place.
Throughout the class, Peelle emphasized that it was important to understand where your character came from, and that place and character are inexplicably intertwined. She gave insight into how place can be used to reveal things about a character, especially in the way that the character describes that place. She used three excerpts from Faulkner, Nabokov, and Fitzgerald to underscore her point.
Peelle instructed the students in a brief writing exercise, first asking them to describe a comfortable and familiar place from their childhood, and then pulling a specific location from each student’s story and telling them to describe that place (in both the main character, and then the secondary character’s points of view) with the same clarity of detail.
The main piece of advice to be taken from Peelle’s class was that a writer should try to ground the story even more into where it is happening and where is home for the character, because doing so is a valuable way to develop the character.
As the interns sat in their familiar semi-circle around the stage in Bush Auditorium, Winter With the Writer’s first Tony Award Winner, first OBIE Award Winner, and first Pulitzer-nominated playwright walked into the room. And that was just David Henry Hwang.
In the meetings prior to his arrival, there was much discussion about how his artistic medium would translate to the festival. If his work consists of songs and dialogue, what would he read from? If he isn’t asking for student work ahead of time, what will he do at the master class?! Colleen Mahoney even alerted Mr. Hwang of our anxiety as she escorted him to campus, telling him, “So, we’re all a little scared about we’re going to be doing.” With the knowledge that none of the interns claimed proficiency in his art, he sat amongst us and said he’d like us to dip our toes into play-writing.
Having taken classes on improvisational theatre with Dr. David Charles, I had a good feeling about testing my spontaneous character development and dialogue, though improv is often aided by a scene partner (or two). Being one’s own partner, then, presents a more daunting challenge. I thought about the advice of Dr. Deaver, the creative writing professor who says that characters’ dialogue must not seem to come from two different people created by one person’s brain, but rather, two different brains communicating. As much as I wanted to heed their sage teachings and foray into new territory, another part of me wanted to replicate the story I had been editing just an hour prior. I could remember basic dialogue, so why not? Now, I’m glad I chose to branch out.
For the first portion of our assignment, we were to write dialogue over a period of twenty minutes. After a brief pause we were to continue—but with a twist. Hwang imposed a rule that whenever he told us a word or phrase, we must include it in our work. The first words were “red velvet curtain” and “suspended speakers,” objects obviously inspired by the decor of the room. Hwang then went into the audience to get suggestions, which garnered “electric lights,” “yellow,” and “gold.” Suddenly, this felt more and more like improv—justifying suggestions and working in others’ occasionally abstract ideas. While random, the ideas didn’t seem to steamroll our own and take over the scene, but rather, interact with our work to create something that neither could have produced on their own. After one final gift—“chew it off”—Hwang ended our writing.
The result was a satisfying piece, having melded the personal and the unexpected, tenants that Hwang then explained are integral to his work and not altogether foreign to one another. He told us that writing from the subconscious and taking to heart its unpredictable turns can often turn a piece into a surprisingly complex and metaphoric product. He then recalled an odd thought he had while writing The Dance and the Railroad, which was to turn one of his characters into a duck. Regardless of the nonsense it seems to be, there in the play, the railroad worker Lone begins acting like a duck. Sometimes, even in the analytical world of writing, it pays to follow your gut—even if that instinct seems fowl.
Tonight President Duncan and his wife were kind enough to open up their home, the Barker House, for the reception for David Henry Hwang. David Hwang is the visiting author this week for Winter with the Writers. He is unique, though, in that he is not just an author, but a playwright. After a few problems with snow, Hwang made it to Winter Park in time to teach a class, as well as enjoy the beautiful scenery provided by the Barker House.
Guests followed a long driveway that ended in a circle to a beautiful house with an exterior similar to the majority of Rollins College buildings. Through the front door was a small foyer, where an intern sat to mark guests off as they arrived and provide them with name tags. Two other interns were also there to greet the guests and direct them towards the refreshments.
The main living room was beautifully simply with plenty of seating for the quickly growing party. A set of doors in the center of the room opened up to a pool and patio, with a lovely view of Lake Victoria. To the left on the patio was mango citrus punch, water, and hot apple cider. To the right there was another set of patio doors that opened into a room where the food was. There was an array of delicious hors d’œuvres; including bruschetta, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and Thai beef canapé.
Over the hour and a half spent at the Barker House I was fortunate enough to speak to faculty, administrators, community figures, other students, and lovers of literature and theater alike. Carol Frost gave a lovely toast thanking those who have helped to make the festival possible, following which David Hwang spoke a few words about the promising students he had taught earlier, and also thanking Carol and Rollins for their hospitality. I think it is fair to say that all the guests had a great time.
past week, Pulitzer-prize winning poet Stephen Dunn visited Rollins College for
the Winter With The Writers festival. On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Dunn held a
masterclass in Bush auditorium to examine the poems of a select few of the
Winter With The Writers interns. He gave much helpful insight to the young
writers about ways to improve their work, first and foremost by making sure the
reader understands what is happening in the poem.
On Thursday night, Stephen Dunn read a few of his poems, new and old, in Bush auditorium. The reading was followed by a question and answer session, with questions ranging from “What is your ideal place to write?” to “Have any of your poems ever gotten you laid?” At the end of the evening, Mr. Dunn graciously stayed and signed any books that attendees had purchased or brought with them.
The week of January 31st through February 4th will feature playwright David Henry Hwang, with a reception on Wednesday night and a masterclass and reading on Thursday.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and the president of Rollins met at 10:30 Thursday morning—not for brunch, but to stand ten feet away from each other, separated by a long green table, two hand-held paddles, and a little yellow ball that the two hit to keep in the field of play. With ping-pong being a life-long game for both Stephen Dunn and President Lewis Duncan, the two found their passions collide on the second floor of the Alfond Sports Center.
The match-up was set by the Carol Frost, director of Winter With the Writers, who first told interns of the incoming writer’s ping-pong prowess, his having grown up with a table in his home and his continued play in his seventies. She was then informed that the president takes the game seriously, as he treks to the Alfond every semester to oust students in the intramural tournament.
What some may not expect is that he dispatches opponents with apparent ease, although the spring tournament held the night of the 26th resulted in his losing in the finals, succumbing to a player that then earned the $50 bounty in place for beating the perennial champ. His playing against Rollins’ top competition certainly warmed him for the morning’s exhibition, as he got off to a hot start and excelled throughout their matches. He even kept the match academic, comparing ping-pong to Dunn’s medium of work as he picked up the ball between points, saying, “It’s like poetry—coming up with a shot that surprises you.”
Dunn’s skill was apparent as well, his feel for the game perhaps only rusted by recent lack of practice, as his corner volleys escaped without making contact and his arching top-spin shots dove just beyond the table’s white edge. He adjusted his game to avoid his recurring missteps, Prof. Frost noting, “He’s playing more defensively now—he’s just been missing the slams.”
But just as the words left her lips, Dunn spiked a towering slam that kicked off the bleachers behind Duncan after landing squarely on the table. The momentum swing propelled Dunn, as he then maintained a long rally, featuring a shot to Duncan’s backhand side that would have been a winner in any other game, had Duncan not ranged beyond the edge of the table. The president’s resulting, curving shot saw the ball’s shadow on the gym floor until after it had passed the net to Dunn’s side. Duncan’s penchant for unlikely returns caught Frost’s attention, calling him “a good fetcher.”
Duncan would go on to complete the sweep, shaking hands with Dunn, thanking him for his visit to Rollins and the fun match. Dunn shared praise for the college president, calling him “a very nice player that doesn’t make mistakes, with spins that tempt me into my slams.” He added, “Had I been playing more, he still would have won, but it would have been a closer match.”
At 4pm yesterday, the Winter with the Writers season began in earnest. Jim Shepard, award-winning novelist and short story writer, conducted a master class in Bush Auditorium, the venue for all 2011 Winter with the Writers master classes and readings. Free and open to the public, this event gave the audience of students, faculty, and community members the opportunity to observe Shepard conduct a workshop with the 12 Winter with the Writers interns.
Five of the interns submitted short stories, which are available for download on the Winter with the Writers website. Shepard selected a sentence from each of the five stories, had the respective interns write the sentence on the board for all to see, and then instructed the interns to vote for their favorite sentence. The interns then engaged in a lively discussion about the elements of each sentence and what made the sentences work well, or not so well. Both the Interns and the audience alike appreciated this format for the class.
Hundreds of students, faculty, and community members poured into Bush Auditorium for the 8pm reading. Shepard read a piece entitled "Boys Town" from his new collection of short stories, You Think That's Bad. The reading lasted for 40 minutes, but Shepard's wonderful delivery, coupled with his outstanding prose, made the reading seem all too short. During the question and answer session following the reading, the audience had even more opportunities to laugh and to learn. Afterwards, Shepard stayed to sign dozens of books, bantering jovially with each person as he signed.
Next Thursday, January 27th, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Stephen Dunn will be on campus to conduct a master class at 4pm in Bush Auditorium, followed by an 8pm reading, question and answer session, and book signing.
After much anticipation, Winter With the Writers kicked off the festival with a reception at the Enzian Theater, welcoming author and film guru Jim Shepard. Winter With the Writers friends and patrons, members of the Enzian Theater, and the fortunate interns enjoyed mingling with Mr. Shepard in the casual yet sophisticated atmosphere of the little gem of a movie house. Prior to meeting Mr. Shepard many of us had mentally prepared questions we wanted to ask him about his work. However, from the moment we approached him, he made it clear that he wanted to learn about each of us as well. In turn, we all walked away from our memorable conversations with him commenting on his stunning wit and personable nature.
Following the outdoor socializing, we made our way into the Theater for a one-time time screening of Nosferatu, directed by the legendary F.W. Murnau, which inspired Jim Shepard’s fictional story by the same name. Before the showing of the film, Mr. Shepard introduced Murnau’s famous work, considered the first important film of the vampire genre. He offered insight about Murnau’s unique vision of movement, the visually haunting famous scenes, and the intriguing parallel between the Nosferatu itself and Murnau’s life. After Shepard’s speech, the audience was treated with viewing a masterpiece that was both disturbing and wonderful at the same time. The film was followed by a Q&A session with Jim Shepard, in which the audience picked his brain about various aspects of the film.
We are all looking forward to the Master Class at 4 and the Reading at 8, which will both be held in the Bush Auditorium tomorrow.