During a winter meeting, a member of my local writer’s group spoke about the Hollins University Summer program, Tinker Mountain. It sounded great but I had family coming to stay. Then they cancelled and I had a free week.
I’ve looked at a lot of university programs but they generally seem to focus on literary fiction. But Hollins offered a week-long workshop with Laura Benedict on “Crafting High Concept Genre Fiction.” That factor and the size of the class (limited to 12 students) appealed to me.
My class turned out to be five students so we had lots of time for individual attention to our manuscripts. I think I learned as much from my critique as I did from everyone’s else critique in which Laura seamlessly blended developmental and line edits with craft. Laura writes upmarket suspense and was well qualified to talk about the various genres that my classmates and I were writing. Her new book which was just released is “Bliss House” which is a dark suspense ghost story. See www.laurabenedict.com.
In addition to our morning workshops, we had hour long craft sections by a different instructor each day. Pinckney Benedict spoke on “Weapon as Characters.” This was really a discussion of “ekphrasis.” At its basic level, ekphrasis is experiencing one art form in another art form. He referenced the poems “Ode to Grecian Urn” and “The Illiad” where Achilles’ shield (which bears all of society on its face) is associated so closely with the character to show the use of this concept in writing. From my own experience of having read “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” which is based on a painting, I was able to think about this concept in a different way of seeing how objects in stories might have an added meaning.
Thorpe Moeckel and Emilia Phillips gave an interesting lecture on revision in poetry. They discussed both the micro considerations such as line breaks and tense as well as more macro considerations such as character and place. I’m not a poet but breaking this down using an example was helpful.
Barbara Jones, Executive Editor at Henry Holt & Company, gave a lecture on the current state of the traditional publishing business and what she looks for in a manuscript: Quality of the prose since a publishing house is acquiring a writer not just a book, a bigger idea that differentiates the writer/book , authenticity which fuels the pitch, taste and having something to say with the drive to do so. Barbara talked a lot about discoverability which relates to social media and word of mouth.
Laura Benedict’s lecture was on using genre techniques in all kinds of fiction. She spoke about raising the stakes, mining your setting for all that it can add to your story, not to be afraid of plot, having a clear sense of what your story is about, creating characters with moral and emotional intensity, striving to write beautifully without being too obvious, and lastly, enjoying yourself and your work.
Sounds like we were busy? We were but in addition to all this, we attended the 10 year anniversary reception, readings by both instructors and students and had a movie night. Time was open every afternoon to write or meet up with other writers. On the last day, we had a lunch panel of the instructors with more information on their path to publication and an informative Q&A session with Barbara Jones.
On the whole, the workshop as a whole was very well organized, the food was great and the particular class I attended was terrific. I made friends with several writers that I hope will remain friends or critique partners now that we have left the workshop – and I can’t wait for next year.