Monday, August 24, 2009

Creative Writing Classes

About twenty-five years ago I enrolled at Concordia University for English Lit and History. (a few years before that I'd tried a year of economics and, well, it didn't work out.)

I knew I wanted to write but I was unsure about creative writing classes. Can you learn to write, or do you just have to do it and hope you have "talent?" Concordia had a creative writing program and it seemed good, so I took some classes.

At the time, and for years after, I really didn't think the classes had much effect on me. Garry Geddes, a poet and now non-fiction writer, taught the short story class I took. He had us read our stories out loud. Only years later did I realize what a valuable tool this was for understanding how important voice is in fiction.

In the intervening years I've realized that I learned an awful lot in those creative writng classes. I don't know if the other people in those classes needed to learn as much as I did, but a few of them are very good writers today.

Michel Basilieres was the guy who told me about the Concordia program. His novel Black Bird, published by Knopf won the in Canada First Novel Award in 2004 and was nominated for the Steven Leacock Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book.

Tess Fragoulis was in that class with Garry and was probably the most fully-formed writer at the time. Her story collection, Stories to Hide From Your Mother, was published in 1997 and her first novel Ariadne's Dream (sex, drugs, Greek mythology) was published in 2001.

There was also a guy in that class named David McGimpsey who understood poetry more than anyone else in the program. I mean he understood poetry the way I understood hockey. And he frustrated the poetry profs by using that understanding to write epic poems about Gilligan's Island and baseball. David has published a few books, still in the "literary-pop culture" world. Sitcom is very good but my favourite is still Hamburger Valley California.

And now comes word that another person from that same class, Lisa Pasold, has her first novel coming out in three weeks. Lisa has published a couple of very good poetry collections, Weave and A Bad Year for Journalits and I've been looking forward to this novel ever since she let me read the manuscript earlier this year.

Rats of Las Vegas is about... you know what, she has a petty good book trailer explaining it:

And there's more info on her webpage.

So, I would say that maybe the gestation period for creative writing classes can be quite a while, but it's a good idea to study your craft.

What do you think?


pattinase (abbott) said...

We didn't read our stories aloud, but we do in my writing group. At first I thought it was a waste of time but now I don't. I get a good idea especially of sections that go on for too long, or ideas that are too vague. I think short story writers should read their story aloud if only to themselves to see these things.

Brian O'Rourke said...

OT, but I had to share. I just finished EKTIN, and I really enjoyed it. Well-written, great dialogue, and a plot that really moved. One of those books I was enjoying so much I didn't want it to end. I have added Dirty Sweet to the ever-expanding To Read list.

John McFetridge said...

Brian, comments like that are never off topic. Thanks.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Sounds like the key to a good class is talented students.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Brian Lindenmuth said...

I've got a copy of Rats of Las Vegas coming to me, sounds really interesting.

Lisa Pasold said...

hey John, thanks for the boost! And Brian, hope ya like the book. At the start of it, Gary's class terrified me...but reading the work aloud was a great exercise to get into. i still do that a lot if only to myself (my dog thinks i'm talking to her, so don't tell her the truth).