An Interview with Rachel Starnes, Summer Writing Retreat Instructor

“Writing has always been my way of figuring out what I think, and the genre of nonfiction is such a wide open place for exploration.”

-Rachel Starnes

Rachel Starnes is the author of the critically-acclaimed memoir The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace and Other Missions Impossible. She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from California State University, Fresno and her BA from the University of Texas. Her essays have appeared in The Colorado Review, Front Porch Journal, and O Magazine. Born in Austin, Texas, she has lived in Scotland, Saudi Arabia, Florida, California, and Nevada, and is currently on the move again with her husband, two sons, and a puppy.

Rachel is teaching a class called “Exploring the Essay: Building the Essential Foundation for Short and Long From Nonfiction” at the 2018 WLT Summer Writing Retreat. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Scribe: Your class explores the many forms the creative essay can take. How could writers unfamiliar with the nonfiction genre benefit from your class?

Rachel Starnes: This class will give a good intro to the wide and varied landscape of contemporary nonfiction. It’s a broad genre with a lot of potential and growth right now, and I plan to hit the high points of its development going all the way back to Michel de Montaigne. The goal here is to convey what a dicey proposition it’s been, historically, to say we’re going to write about “the truth,” whether it’s a chain of events that took place, an encapsulation of one particular moment, a portrait of another person’s life, or someone’s own lived experience.

Scribe: Even for the most personal of essays research may be required. How does an essayist go about researching their own life or memories?

RS: We’ll talk a lot about primary sources — photographs, diaries, interviews, artifacts — and their limitations. There are a lot of tools one can use to get at the “truth” of a situation, but the goal here is not to compile a court document or a definitive record. This kind of writing is as much about process as it is about answers. Often, the most interesting parts of the work are the parts where the details refuse to come into focus. Leaning into that, exploring why certain parts are unclear, allowing for alternate viewpoints or competing narratives— those are research methods as well, and often lead to enhanced narrative credibility and a more interesting, multidimensional story. I think a lot of nonfiction writing is about knowing what conversations need to happen off the page, or when to confess to your uncertainty about something and create space in the narrative for possibility.

Scribe: What are the essays or memoirs that have had a big influence on your own writing?

RS: Joan Didion’s collection The White Album and her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, James Baldwin’s essay “Notes of a Native Son,” and Mary Karr’s memoirs The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit immediately come to mind. I was blown away by Leslie Jamison’s collection The Empathy Exams, Rebecca Solnit’s collection Men Explain Things to Me, and Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body. I’m excited to be discovering new voices I love all the time.

Scribe: As a writer, what was it that attracted you to the nonfiction genre?

RS: I’m drawn to the idea that there are things we don’t say, either because it seems too hard or it’s considered taboo. I think the true stuff of life often exists in those conversations we’re afraid to have, or the parts of life that have left us tangled up or with the vague feeling of “this keeps happening to me and I don’t know why.” Writing has always been my way of figuring out what I think, and the genre of nonfiction is such a wide open place for exploration. I also think that the more we explore our own areas of contradiction, uncertainty, or discomfort, the more we widen the frame for others to do it as well.

Scribe: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from teaching nonfiction?

RS: That the old saw is accurate: truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve learned that the people around me are an inexhaustible source of stories. Also, that there’s hope in the idea that a lot of our stories, while fascinating and unique in the particulars, are universal in their themes.

Thank you, Rachel!

For more information on the Writers’ League of Texas 2018 Summer Writing Retreat, click here.

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An Interview with Stacey Swann, Summer Writing Retreat Instructor

“The discussions and exercises we do can be just as helpful to the writer who has already written several novels […] as the writer who is on their first novel attempt.”

— Stacey Swann

Stacey Swann’s fiction has appeared in The Bridport Prize Anthology 2017, Epoch, Memorious, Versal, Covered W/ Fur, and other journals. A past Stegner Fellow, she teaches with Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio and in their Novel Certificate Program. She is contributing editor at the literary journal American Short Fiction.

Stacey is teaching a class called “The Fiction Hatchery: Moving Ideas to the Page Through Characterization, Plot, Setting, and Theme” at the 2018 WLT Summer Writing Retreat. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Scribe: What was the greatest challenge you faced in starting your own novel?

Stacey Swann: For me, as I began my first novel, my greatest challenge was overcoming my fear of the size of the project. Before that project, I had only written short stories. The idea of writing hundreds of pages around a single idea seemed so daunting. I had to have faith that, if I just kept writing, more ideas for the plot would start to appear. I think that’s why, as a teacher, I’ve become such a fan of different kinds of foundational work at the beginning of project. It helps generate those ideas even before the bulk of the drafting begins, making the length feel less intimidating.

Scribe: In your class, you will discuss how to start a new writing project. What, in your opinion, is the best way to get started?

SS: I always tell my students that the best way to go about a project is the way that feels right to them, specifically. I know that sounds vague! But the fact is that writers all have very different processes, and there is no one right way to finish a novel or a short story. Some writers love to draft with no set agenda and want to surprise even themselves when they write. Other writers really need the structure and scaffolding of an outline, even if it is a very vague and sketchy one, to help them at the beginning of the project. You have to observe your own reactions as you write and hone in on the things that seem the most fun and the most rewarding to you as you work.

Scribe: Not all writers sit down and figure out their stories’ conflicts before they start. How important is the early story-mapping process?

SS: As I mentioned above, there’s a portion of writers that like the conflicts to reveal themselves as they draft the scenes, rather than knowing the conflicts before they begin. But even for those writers, having a general sense of the direction they are heading initially can really help with momentum. Doing that foundational work doesn’t have to mean mapping out the exact events that your characters will grapple with. It may just mean knowing the general type of conflict. For example, in my own novel, I knew some of my characters would be grappling with whether they could forgive a loved one for infidelity. But I didn’t know the exact type of infidelity when I began writing, or what the motivations for the characters were. Those things only solidified for me as I actually began drafting.

ScribeYour work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals. Would you say that story development is just as important for shorter pieces as well as novel writing?

SSAbsolutely! Whether you are writing a four page short story or a four hundred page novel, thinking deeply about your characters and what’s at the heart of the project—why it’s important to you, the writer—not only can make the drafting an easier process, it can also deepen the complexity and depth of the finished project.

Scribe: What level of writer is your class best suited for?

SS: One of the reasons I love the Fiction Hatchery class is that the format can work for writers of every level. The discussions and exercises we do can be just as helpful to the writer who has already written several novels and/or short stories as the writer who is on their first novel attempt or is trying their hand at a short story for the very first time.

Thank you, Stacey!

For more information of the the Writers’ League of Texas 2018 Summer Writing Retreat, click here.

An Interview with Christine Butterworth-McDermott, Summer Writing Retreat Instrustor

Poetry is about finding the right detail to say what you want to say. It’s about finding a unique and memorable way to make the mundane or everyday vivid.

— Christine Butterworth-McDermott

Christine Butterworth-McDermott is the founder of Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, an online journal that focuses on work with a magical twist. A graduate of Purdue’s M.F.A. program, her first book, Woods & Water, Wolves & Women was published in 2012, and her second, Evelyn As, about Gibson girl Evelyn Nesbit, is forthcoming from Fomite Press. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Cimmaron, The Normal School, River Styx, and Southeast Review as well as other journals and anthologies. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Rhysling award, and received two honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She teaches courses in poetry at Stephen F. Austin State University, which has the only BFA in Creative Writing in the state of Texas, with her husband, writer John A. McDermott.

Christine is teaching a class called “Please & Thank You: Crafting Poems that Express and Explore” at our 2018 Summer Writing Retreat. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Scribe: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from teaching poetry? How has this affected your own writing?

CBM: Teaching teaches me something new every year. Several years ago, I met a student who changed my craft. I was a teacher who was very interested in poems with obvious clarity and narrative. A young man in my Intermediate Poetry class, Tyler, wrote in a  profoundly different style—but there was no denying his talent.

I had a choice to either force him into doing what I wanted or to open myself up to trying to help him make the best poems he could in the way he wanted. We have an undergraduate program at SFASU in which the culminating project is a book-length work, and I was extremely honored when a year later Tyler asked me to be his thesis advisor, because he trusted I could help him be a better poet. His exploration of elliptical imagistic poetry in that collection was instrumental in my trying out that form shortly after.

This form turned out to be the right one for a book of poems I’ve written called Evelyn As, which will be published next year by Fomite Press. I wanted a fragmented image-based form which utilized white space to capture the emotional brokenness of Evelyn Nesbit, a model at the turn of the century, who had a series of traumatic relationships. So, my students teach me as much as I might teach them, and they keep me open to new avenues of seeing the world.

Scribe: Who are the writers that have had the biggest influence on your own writing?

CBM: Perhaps the first writer I ever fell in love with was F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of my favorite sentences of all time is the second sentence of Chapter Three of The Great Gatsby: “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” If that isn’t poetic, I don’t know what is.

I loved all of the British Romantics as an undergraduate student, but my senior year I discovered Modernist poets like Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. I’m obsessed with fairy tales and Victorian fiction, both of which are highly symbolic. I devour the work of Alice Hoffman, and I love the femme fatale genre novels of Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott. Still, while I wrote poetry from the time I was eight, I didn’t study it as a craft until graduate school at Purdue University, where I was getting my degree in fiction. In order to teach an Intro to Creative Writing course, I had to sit in on a class taught by the poet Marianne Boruch. A fabulous poet herself, she was the person who introduced me to Jorie Graham, Mary Oliver, and the contemporary poetry world. She was an incredible teacher and her students responded to her in this amazing. That, along with the insistence of sentence level beauty from my fiction mentors Bill Stuckey, Chuck Wachtel, and Patricia Henley, shaped me as a writer and a teacher. I also began publishing more poetry than fiction.

As I began teaching, I discovered that I really loved Philip Levine, whose work about working class Americans was accessible but profoundly well-crafted. I admire the current work of Dorianne Laux, Kim Addonizio, and William Brewer, whose debut collection I Know Your Kind knocked my socks off. Jamaal May’s Hum, Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s At The Drive-In Volcano, Ross Gay’s catalog of unabashed gratitude, and Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things are all books I revisit again and again.

Scribe: You talk about using poetry as a form of gratitude in your class description. Can you give an example of one of your own poems that does this, and how you approached writing this poem?

CBM: The concept really comes from an interview with Ada Limón. In it, she says, “I’ve always been a fan of that saying that there are really only two prayers: thank you and please. I’m not a praying person, but I think that same quote can work for poetry. . . I want my poetry to connect to people and truly affect them. I want my poetry to help people recommit the world we are living in, to the ugly mess and beautiful strangeness of it.

This struck a chord with me. I was thinking about how often I wrote from a place of pain. I was seeing a lot of the same from my students. Reading Limón’s interview, and Bright Dead Things, made me reevaluate this idea. What if we could approach poetry from this place of “thank you” or “please”?  I thought it might open up more opportunities for us as writers. It might open us up to joy and recovery.

This is a relatively new concept for me, so I’m still working on poems in this vein, but an older poem I’ve written, “Dead Girls, Not Ours,” has these qualities as both a please and a thank you. It was published in Cider Press Review. I wrote this poem after a friend of mine responded to a poem about dead girls, which was profoundly disturbing to her. I wanted to capture the fact that you have to have hope in the face of fear. I wanted the language to be beautiful, but also capture the feeling of the “ugly mess,” as Limón puts it.

Scribe: Writing poetry requires a much different mindset than other long-format genres. How would you say writing poetry might benefit a novelist or nonfiction writer?

CBM: I actually think that the mindset isn’t that different. Poetry is often a work of nonfiction, but plenty of poets write from personas. Personally, when I’m working on a collection I try to link poems as I go—I try to think of a subject matter that ties together, images that repeat, similar emotions from poem to poem, so that in some ways poems become “chapters” to a larger “story.” Even if you don’t work with deliberate ideas of connection, poetry is about finding the right detail to say what you want to say. It’s about finding a unique and memorable way to make the mundane or everyday vivid. Those are skills that also benefit prose.

Thank you, Christine!

For more on the Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat, click here.

Summer Writing Retreat Instructor Q&A: Charlotte Gullick

“We have to honor each draft in the sense that the work we have already written has led us to the moment of editing out a character or a scene. All of it counts even if we cut it.”

-Charlotte Gullick

Charlotte Gullick is a novelist, essayist, editor, educator and Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. A first-generation college graduate, she received her AA with High Honors from Santa Rosa Junior College, a BA with Honors in Literature/Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz, an MA in English/Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Charlotte’s first novel, By Way of Water, was chosen by Jayne Anne Phillips as the Grand Prize winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program, and a special author’s edition was reissued by the Santa Fe Writers Project in November of 2013. Charlotte’s other awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, a MacDowell Colony Residency, Faculty of Year from College of the Redwoods as well as the Evergreen State College 2012 Teacher Excellence Award.

Charlotte is teaching a class during the Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat called “The Confident Revision: A Roadmap for the Editing Process.” Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Charlote Gullick bwScribe: When did you know you were a writer? Was there a defining moment in your personal history? 

Charlotte Gullick: I knew I was a writer when I had a creative writing assignment returned to me in a community college class and written across the top was “You’re a real writer. Stick with this.” This comment coincided with the death of my grandfather by a drunk driver. He was a piano player in the old timey-sense; they were folks from Arkansas who carried music with them wherever they went, and when they settled in California, getting a piano was a top-priority. His love of music, of honky-tonk and of cowboy songs, informed my appreciation for the ways songs could tell stories and of how stories could be songs, bringing people together. He believed in me absolutely, and I think my writing has grown out of the moment of being identified as a possible writer and wanting to evoke something of my grandfather’s lively, creative presence on the page.

Scribe: You’re teaching a class on revision during the Summer Writing Retreat. What is a common misconception about the revision stage? 

CG: I think a common misconception is that we can revise everything in a single pass; that a “real” writer can hold all the elements of craft in his/her mind’s eye and look at the material for improvement with all those elements at once. I believe that this notion actually slows us down and makes us revise superficially. If we instead revise each draft with a single focus on one element of craft (i.e. dialogue or sensory detail or tension), the improvements we make will be more meaningful and take less time and we will feel more empowered to make those revisions.

Scribe: Making cuts to a draft is a difficult task. How do you approach it?

CG: We have to honor each draft in the sense that the work we have already written has led us to the moment of editing out a character or a scene. All of it counts even if we cut it. When it comes to big sections, say 3-4 paragraphs or sometimes a whole chapter, I do save them in another file, something like “One-Man Reservation Cuts” – so I can return to it if needed. I often don’t come back to this material for the particular piece I’ve cut it from (I might use it for something else, though). But, creating the file of the edited out material softens the blow of taking it out, I think. This approach helps me map out the revision, so I can see what I have and what I need.

Scribe: When you revise, do you get feedback from peers or do you rely solely on your own instincts and knowledge?

CG: I definitely get feedback from peers. I’m someone who is impatient with process and often too close to my material to see what’s missing and what’s not working. For example, in my second novel, which I’ve written eight times, I have a character who is deeply important to ME. My husband, who is also a writer, has kindly pointed out, after I asked him if I can keep this character, that I need to make this character as important to the readers as he is to me. This is excellent feedback – it helps me see and understand what I couldn’t otherwise. I would add, though, that I am judicious about which folks I share my work with. The wrong person at the wrong time can deflate momentum and faith.

Scribe: You’re a professor at Austin Community College. What’s a valuable piece of advice that you’ve learned from teaching/participating in writing classes over the years?

CG: That community matters. People with significant differences in experience, ability, and ambition enter the community college classroom, and most of us are there because we want to cultivate discipline and community; we want to know we’re not alone in our dreams and our struggles.

— Thanks, Charlotte!

Click here to register for Charlotte’s class.

Click here for more information on the Summer Writing Retreat.

Summer Writing Retreat: Instructor Spotlight

The 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat will be held July 18-23 at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, the perfect summer escape. There’s something truly special and one of a kind about the stunning landscape of mountainous West Texas — not to mention the refreshing afternoon showers and cool summer evenings — that inspires writers to commune with each other and their natural surroundings and to, most importantly, dig deep and hone their craft.

During this six-day retreat, five intensive writing workshops will be taught simultaneously by five of Texas’ premier authors, offering a unique experience for participants to enjoy an intimate class setting during the day and a larger group dynamic outside of the classroom throughout the week. Open to all genres and categories within fiction, non-fiction, memoir and poetry, with classes for both beginners and more seasoned writers, this retreat is singular in its focus, its emphasis on community, and its low registration rates.

We’re fortunate to have Texas Monthly’s Michael Hall returning this year, by popular demand, to teach a terrific class on non-fiction, “Capturing Real Life: Long-Form Narrative in a Short-Form World.” Read his Q&A below to learn more:

An Interview with Michael Hall

How do you think long-form narratives fit into the modern-day world of short attention spans and instant gratification? What can they achieve that maybe other writing styles can’t?

Michael Hall: I think that all the short pieces that everyone today loves—from tweets to Facebook posts to the shorter pieces on most online sites—have only made people want to read the longer stories even more. It’s not like we’ve evolved away from loving stories; everyone still loves a good narrative, and you just can’t do that in a tweet or in a 750-word entry in Slate or the Daily Beast. People love stories, whether hearing them or reading them, and good stories with compelling characters who do strange and noble and terrible things, stories that take time to write and read, will always be with us. It’s funny, but the short platforms  like Twitter and Facebook have become signposts for the longer stories—a way to tell people about the longform things out there. And the growth and popularity of sites like longform.org and longreads.com show just how vital the long story is.

What’s one of the most rewarding or exciting experiences you’ve had as a journalist?pols_feature-10606

MH: I did a story in December 2002 about problems with the death penalty in Texas called “Death Isn’t Fair” that focused on a man named Ernest Willis, who, after six months of reporting, I was certain was innocent. I visited him twice and got to know him pretty well. After the story came out, a federal judge ordered that Willis get a new trial and the Texas attorney general decided not to appeal, leading to the DA dismissing the indictment. Willis walked out in October 2004. I’m not positive my story led to his freedom but I’m guessing it factored into the equation the authorities were considering. I stayed in touch with Ernie afterward and did a couple of follow-ups on him.

What’s one of the biggest challenges you encounter when writing narrative nonfiction, and how do you overcome it?

MH: My biggest challenge is always organizing my notes and getting them into a reasonable system so that when it’s time to write, I can make sense of it all. I usually try to nip this in the bud by doing as much writing as I can as I go along, but that has its own problems—like way too many words. But better too many than not enough.

In your opinion, what’s the future of long-form?

MH: I think the future is good—I think long-form is going to stick around. I’m not positive about the future of paper magazines, but people are becoming more and more accustomed to reading online, and the web is, of course, infinite—stories can be as long as you want them to be. As long as people want to read good stories they will want to read long stories.

As a preview for your upcoming summer class, what’s one invaluable tip for writing meaningful and relatable long-form narratives?

MH: The most important thing to writing great long stories is writing scenes that play out in the head of the reader. If you the writer can get in the habit of creating movie-like scenes so that the reader isn’t even aware he/she is reading—he/she is so immersed in your words that he/she feels like he/she is watching it—everyone is going to want to read your story.

–Thanks, Michael!

More information on the Summer Writing Retreat, including how to register for Michael Hall’s class, can be found here: 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat.

We love this piece written by one of Michael’s students from 2013, Joyce Boatright.

PIECE BY PIECE

By Joyce Boatright

“Are you Leon Hale?”

If you’ve ever met the famed columnist of three Houston dailies, most recently the Chronicle, you know Hale has a distinctive face, flat and craggy, with intelligent eyes, so approaching him with the friendly question was an easy opener for conversation. I spotted him in the Holiday Inn Express on Hwy 67 in Alpine, TX, across from Sul Ross State University, where I was attending a summer writers’ retreat, sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas.

He turned, not just his head but his whole lanky frame, and admitted with a nod, “What’s left of him.”

Rewind 49 years. I’m a sophomore in college sitting in Leon Hale’s feature writing class at Sam Houston State University. He is a daily columnist for the Houston Post, owned by Ovetta Culp Hobby, former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in Eisenhower’s cabinet, and he supplements his newspaper salary with adjunct faculty pay from Sam Houston’s School of Journalism. He isn’t a lecturer and doesn’t pretend to be. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday he brings in a couple of his columns and gives us the backstory before reading them to us.

My parents are avid readers, but I’m a journalism major who doesn’t read the newspaper. I’m too busy playing shuffleboard or dominoes and drinking Schlitz from icy cold long-necks at the Paper Moon in Trinity, or Borski’s outside Willis or the Magnolia in Conroe.

Leon Hale frequents those places, too, looking for copy to fill his column. He takes the class on an occasional field trip, like to the Martin Boarding House on the corner of 15th Street and Avenue K. Mrs. Martin gives us a tour of her two-story hardwood house with its peeling paint exterior and peeling flower wallpaper interior. She rents rooms to college boys, mostly ag majors, who park their pickups off the street and on the grass-stripped, red dirt backyard. Their rooms are decorated with Playboy center-folds.

Hale has told us to take in the details. He says it’s the detail’s that make a feature story come alive. Maybe not those exact words, but something close enough because I’m jotting down the way Leta Martin is dressed in a man’s coveralls, how her red hair is a tussle of curls, how her pale freckled face is bare of makeup, how she smokes unfiltered hand rolled cigarettes. Leon Hale teaches us by example and then leads us to the small-town, ordinary folks he writes about and challenges us to describe them in detail so that the reader can see their character.

In the breakfast area of the Holiday Inn Express, I re-introduced myself to Hale as a former student from 1965. He asked my name, I told him, and he smiled politely. I looked past him toward the lobby, and he moved around me. “Here, let me get out of your way.”

I took the comment as a polite way to send me off. “Okay. It was so good to see you again.”

“Wait. What are you doing here?”

I was reminded of his journalistic curiosity and I thought to myself, a true journalist never loses that curiosity.

I told him I was at a retreat sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas, taking a course in the long narrative from Texas Monthly senior editor Michael Hall, and then I asked what he was doing in Alpine.

“My wife is at the same outfit, taking an editing course in fiction for a novel she’s written.”

Small world.

I said goodbye for real—I didn’t want to be late for my class.

Back in class, Michael Hall’s teaching methodology reminds me of Hale’s teaching style. The class picks at Hall the same way we picked at Leon Hale, hungry for the details of the story behind the story, the story of how and why he wrote about the topics and themes he did.

Yep, we took pieces of Leon Hale like we take pieces of Mike Hall, and one day, maybe four decades from now, he may run into Suzanne Haberman, the youngest in the class, and she’ll ask, “Are you Mike Hall?” And he may well reply with a nod, “What’s left of him.”

Summer Writing Retreat: Instructor Spotlight

The 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Summer Writing Retreat will be held July 18-23 at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, the perfect summer escape. There’s something truly special and one of a kind about the stunning landscape of mountainous West Texas — not to mention the refreshing afternoon showers and cool summer evenings — that inspires writers to commune with each other and their natural surroundings and to, most importantly, dig deep and hone their craft.

During this six-day retreat, five intensive writing workshops will be taught simultaneously by five of Texas’ premier authors, offering a unique experience for participants to enjoy an intimate class setting during the day and a larger group dynamic outside of the classroom throughout the week. Open to all genres and categories within fiction, non-fiction, memoir and poetry, with classes for both beginners and more seasoned writers, this retreat is singular in its focus, its emphasis on community, and its low registration rates.

An Interview with Scott Wiggerman

Scott Wiggerman is the author of three books of poetry, Leaf and Beak: SonnetsPresence and Vegetables and Other Relationships. He is also the editor of several volumes of poetry including Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku & Haiga and Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, named in the 2015 Poet’s Market as one of “Six Stellar Sources of Poetry Prompts.”  Recent poems have appeared in Decades ReviewFrogpondPinyon Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and the anthologies Forgetting Home: Poems about Alzheimer’s and the Lambda award-winning This Assignment Is So Gay. Wiggerman is chief editor for Dos Gatos Press in Austin, Texas, publisher of the Texas Poetry Calendar, now in its eighteenth year.

Scott Wiggs

Scribe: What’s your favorite part about the writing process?

Scott Wiggerman: Without a doubt, my favorite part of the writing process is the initial part, the creation, taking nothing and turning it into something (the same holds true for other arts as well). I feel alive when I have taken a blank page and filled it, even when I know that what it’s filled with isn’t necessarily worth anyone’s attention; yet there’s always something there—a phrase, a metaphor, an image—that makes the time spent writing worthwhile for me.

Scribe: Where is your ideal writing place? What’s the benefit of a secluded writing atmosphere like in Alpine?

SW: My usual writing place is cushioned on the end of a couch, in a bathrobe, with a cat, and a cup of coffee. I always write drafts freehand, and I only keyboard them when the page gets so messy with arrows and cross-outs that I need to type them to follow what I’ve written. Obviously, Alpine is not my ideal writing place, but it’s extremely conducive to thought and introspection—the views, the space, the quiet are all marvelous stimulants (and probably much better for me than coffee).

Scribe: Your class will focus on revising poetry. Do you have a critique partner, or is revision a personal process?

SW: Ultimately, revision is a personal process, but that doesn’t mean I don’t value the opinions of others. I am fortunate to be married to another writer, who is always my first critique partner. For many decades I’ve participated in both a live workshop and an online workshop, and my poems have benefited immensely from the critiques they’ve received from both groups over the years. I believe writers should not revise in total isolation; we need the perspectives of others.

Scribe: As a poet, you’re typically working within a more structured format, where every word is significant. Does that make you a harsher critic of your other types of writing? Or even as you read? Are you more aware of when other writers should have cut a line here or there?

SW: I don’t think being a poet makes me a harsher critic of other genres, but it definitely makes me a harsher critic of poetry, especially as I’m reading it. I’m constantly reading poems that I feel would be stronger with a cut line or a removed stanza, or poems that should start a bit later or end a bit sooner—and this happens even when I read top-tier poets. Reading other genres gives me a break in a way, as I can enjoy them without critiquing.

Scribe: Revision is often described as “killing your darlings.” How do you kill your darlings? Do you smother them with a pillow, or push them off a cliff? In other words, do you find yourself reworking lines more often, or just cutting them completely?

SW:  It took me years to accept the need to kill my darlings, and I now fully accept that brutality is a necessary part of revision. Yes, I often try to rework lines, but I just as often let them go, sometimes pushing them off a cliff, sometimes burying them alive, sometimes allowing them to live in a closed container for a future repurposing. No matter how much I may love a particular line or stanza, I let it go if I feel that the poem as a whole will be better without it, and my revision course will definitely encourage this same brutal behavior.

–Thanks, Scott!

Click here to register for Scott’s Summer Writing Retreat workshop.

Click here to learn more about our Summer Writing Retreat.