Creative Writing Three-Day Intensive Workshops


If you’re a wordsmith looking for a brief, fun and intensive workshop, you might be interested in one of the three-day classes that fellow writer Brad Zellar and I are launching in January.

These new workshops, each of which focuses on a different subject, are ideal for writers with significant life experience – fifty and up, say – but open to writers of any age and experience level who would enjoy and benefit from a focused creative writing experience.

The workshops will be team-taught by Brad and me, and the first two will be offered in January 2009 at the Minneapolis Central and Washburn Community Libraries. Registration is limited, and cost is $150. Descriptions are below. For more information, please email us here or at

Workshop #1: Writing From Photographs: Inside and Outside the Frame
Dates and Time: January 6-8, Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

It’s said that every picture tells a story, but that’s only true if we apply our memories and imaginations to reconstructing or re-imagining the constellation of circumstances and details that literally frame all photos. In a sense, then, a photo is actually a mere scene from a story –a beginning or an end, perhaps, or a mysterious, poignant, or telling incident that unlocks the story’s secrets. A photo is a connection to the past, a memory, a tangible connection, but it’s far more than that. What at first glance appears to be the main focus – the person or building or scene – is only a hint of what came before and after.

Consider the periphery – what was happening in the margins of the frame? And what about the world beyond the frame – what was left out or cropped? What would the complete picture have shown that the photo does not? What happened just before the shutter was snapped, and just after? Time is forever frozen in the image, but life went on before and after that particular moment, and that life, and those details, are the proper story of the most evocative photos.

Bring in three photos of your own, ones whose largely untold stories fascinate or resonate on some imaginative level, and we’ll provide others. Through a series of guided writing exercises, discussion, and analysis of both published and peer writing, you’ll come away with insights and techniques for character development, scene setting and
storytelling, both real and imagined. This workshop is designed for writers of fiction, memoir, poetry and essays. Ideal for ages 50+, but open to anyone. All experience levels welcome.

Workshop #2: Writing from Place
January 13, 14, and 16 (note: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday), 12:30-3:30 p.m.

Recall some of your favorite books. What part did the setting and landscape play in making these books unforgettable? Is there a place in your own life that haunts you, that is inextricably bound with your memories and the experiences that made you who you are? All writing, no matter the subject or genre, is made more powerful by a powerfully-evoked setting. This three-day intensive class will help you conjure places of great meaning to you, whether beautiful or ugly, real or imagined, and translate that power onto the page.

Through a series of guided writing exercises, discussion, and analysis of both published and in-class writing, you’ll come away with insights and techniques for conjuring place, whether from your own life or a fictive world. This workshop is designed for writers of
fiction, memoir, poetry and essays. Ideal for ages 50+, but open to anyone. All experience levels welcome.

I Love Photo Books

I love books of all kinds and always have, going back to kindergarten, when I would sit in the book corner (once I brought a frog to school and he (she? how do you tell with a frog?) got loose and leapt nimbly from shelf to shelf) and open up the big new picture books to the exact middle, bring the book to my nose, and inhale deeply. My five-year-old version of cocaine. To this day there’s nothing like that particular smell.

Anyway, these days the books I most love are photo books. I got turned on to them in the last year, and I’m semi-obsessed at this point. My favorite photo books tend to be the ones which begin with a foreword or an essay and then let the photos tell the story. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are my current top three.

1. Suburban World, by Brad Zellar, foreword by Alec Soth. This is an astonishing book of photos by a man named Irwin Norling, all taken in a suburb of Minneapolis in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s the range of subjects, clarity, and lighting which make these photos so amazing, especially when grouped together. From linoleum salesmen (one of my favorites) to a bucking bronco (yes, they had rodeos in suburban Minneapolis back then) to a murder-suicide scene to a ladies’ tea to a model house exploding in flame, these photos put the lie to that whole Leave It to Beaver shtick. This is a wonderful book.

2. Beneath the Roses, by Gregory Crewdson. This guy’s photos are amazing. He approaches each one as if he were filming a movie, with a full crew, and meticulously sets up each shot. It’s an enormous book, as befits the oversize nature of the photos themselves, and simply beautiful. For those of you lucky enough to live in NYC, go down to the Luhring-Augustine gallery in Chelsea and check out the exhibit before it disappears.

3. The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings, by KayLynn Deveney. This is one of the loveliest books (of any kind) I’ve ever seen. The photographer took photos of Mr. Hastings, an elderly man living alone, and he himself wrote captions for each photo. Heartbreaking and unforgettable.