Top Ten Moments from Winter Wheat 2013

Posted on 19 November 2013

Winter Wheat, the Mid-American Review Festival of Writing, took place last weekend at Bowling Green. In no particular order, here are my personal top ten moments from the conference:

When Mark Brazaitis told the MFA students, on the opening night of Winter Wheat: “Pick a life that helps you write … but pick a life that also lets you live.” And: “Don’t put a deadline on when something gets published.” And: “Sometimes you need time off [from the work] so you won’t offend your lovely first draft self.”

Getting spooky during Katrin Tschirgi and Catherine Carberry’s “Haunted Places” workshop and, through a writing exercise, more fully understanding one of the places from my childhood that continues to haunt me today.

Learning about The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things in the aforementioned workshop.

Frantically writing 26 original magical realism writing prompts just hours before leading a workshop. Anyone who says creativity can’t be forced by deadlines is wrong.

Getting all magical with my fellow first years, Jackie Cummins and Liz Breazeale, during our magical realism workshop.

Hearing Matt Bell summarize his novel In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods: The wife sings objects into being, including a second moon; there’s a “fingerling”child who lives inside the father; there’s a squid, and a giant bear … and from there, things start to get weird.

Sitting in the live audience for Matt Bell’s podcast with Summerbooks, where among other things, he suggested it’s dangerous for young writers to ask themselves, “What does it mean?” and instead should ask, “How do you feel?” He also pointed out that too many stories submitted to lit mags seem to end with “people looking out into the distance and feeling a feeling. ” You can listen to the podcast here.

Manning the table of presenters’ books at the book fair, an experience that taught me I love using a portable credit card reader to charge other people for buying books. It’s so satisfying. (A bit less satisfying was when I ran my own credit card through the reader, but at least in that case, I got to keep the books.)

Successfully creeping out the brave souls who showed up to my “You’re Creeping Me Out: Letting Your Narrator’s Dark Side Shine” workshop. Thank god for 1) a solid background of creepy real-life experiences to pull from 2) lots of excellent and creepy fictional pieces to use as examples, including “A Real Doll” by A.M. Homes, Lolita, and even Nightlight, the Harvard Lampoon’s Twilight parody and 3) that my audience was more than willing to be creepy themselves. Not too shabby for a 9am workshop.

Participating in the following exercise in Sarah White’s “The Ethics of Nonfiction” workshop: Write down three memories — the first three memories that come to mind at this moment. Now, step back and consider possible connections among those memories while keeping the following questions in mind: What’s going on in your life right now? Does the past speak to the present? Do you see any connections? I surprised myself through this exercise…and really, what else does a writer need but to surprise herself?

All in all, Winter Wheat was a success. And now it’s back to reading Mid-American Review submissions…

How are you surprising yourself these days?


2 responses to Top Ten Moments from Winter Wheat 2013

  • Sarah W says:

    The conference sounds like so much (slightly spooky) fun, Laura—thanks for highlighting it for us. :)

    I’ve been surprising myself lately by realizing how much I’ve been thinking of my new book and how little I’ve been writing it down . . .

  • Catherine says:

    Sounds like a challenging few days with lots of new zones opened up. I wonder about the litmag submissions that end with feelings/distant views. Now I’m worried!

    I’m surprising myself lately by how committed I am to a new story collection.. The first one took so long and here am I trucking onward. I’m also surprising myself by starting to enjoy public readings!

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