Have a Great Summer ~ And Don’t Forget to Write!

IS-1dlujp8qcxrh9I am one day away from a self-imposed writing retreat to our Mt Carroll, IL house (it’s up for sale, by the way, in case you are looking for your own retreat) that will start with a writing weekend with two of my best writing buddies, Gail and Jana. (I just noticed that I have written the word “writing” three times in that sentence. I guess I want to remind myself that this retreat must be about the writing.) Anyway, once my buds have gone, I will need to be my own inspiration for a while. No internet in the house, no television or other distractions. Lots of neighbors close by with whom I enjoy raising a glass now and again, but I will have to use that glass-raising as my reward for a good day’s work.

The semester has just finished, and as always, at the end of it, I remind my students not to give in to the temptation to put the writing off. You know how it is at the end of a school year; the first thing you want to do is sleep (okay, maybe the first thing you want to do is drink, but after that, you really do need to catch up on all the sleep you have missed.) The last thing you want to do is anything that feels remotely like homework. So you save the writing for the next day. And then the next day, and IMAG0339the next. And before you know, the summer has passed and you have–indeed–forgotten to write. (This procrastination action is not limited to students, by the way. Teachers. Parents. Single guys and gals. Anyone who thinks that they will have more time to accomplish what the really want to in the summer when the days are longer and the breezes are warmer can be caught in the trap of “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”)

So want a little nudge? How about a writing getaway for yourself? As it happens, I will be teaching four workshops of various lengths and purpose this summer, and I would love to have you join me.

First: Journal & Sketchbook at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts in beautiful Mineral Point, Wisconsin. June 8 & 9, 2013.

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I co-teach this class with visual artist Philip Hartigan, and we gear the class toward writers and artists of all levels. Activities will help you use visual note taking, writing, and expressive mark making to help you record memories, observations, imaginings, stories, and visual narratives. This pairing and interplay of text and image is a time-honored artistic tradition, practiced by writers and artists from Mark Twain to Henri Matisse to Jean-Michel Basquiat, and is useful for all manner of creative expression.

Participants may sign up for either one or both days—for a weekend of writing and drawing and creative practices. New activities will be undertaken each day.

Second: Interlochen College of Creative Arts Writers Retreat in gorgeous and green Interlochen, Michigan. June 17 – 20, 2013.

My fiction workshop for this retreat is already full to capacity, but there is still room in Memoir (Anne-Marie Oomen,) Poetry (James Arthur,) and Writing for Children and Young Adults (Louise Hawes.) main-entrance-sign

Second-and-a-half: Blogging for Artists and Writers. Interlochen, Michigan. June 21, 2013.

The brilliant artist and writer Philip Hartigan will be teaching a one-day workshop on New headshotbuilding and maintaining your own blog.

Third: Journal & Sketchbook: Florence. July 4 – August 2, 2013.

This is a big one, folks. This college-level, study abroad course offered by the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago is also open to interested participants who are not currently Columbia College Chicago students. A month in Italy drawing and writing? Yes please. 75498_221057628035837_387282161_n(Co-taught with Philip Hartigan.)

Fourth: Creating Story: A Fiction Writing Workshop at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts. Mineral Point, Wisconsin. August 10 & 11.

Always wanted to write that short story? Eager to keep at that novel? Know you have a story to tell, but haven’t quite figured out how? Creating Story is for you. Drawing on memory, imagination, and observation in order to create fictional work, this two-day workshop is designed for writers at all levels. Activities will help you develop new work and reconsider work-in-progress, and will assure that you have new pages written by the time you leave the beautiful confines of Shake Rag Alley. Fiction writers of all genres are welcome, as are memoir writers who are eager to explore the fictional possibilities of their life stories.

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So, hey, yeah it is summer. Have a good one. But don’t forget to write.

→My Shake Rag Alley workshops offer discounts to writing group members. Contact me through my templeofair account at gmail if you want details. Interlochen Writers Retreat offers discounts to members of Michigan Writers. And you don’t have to be a resident of Michigan to be a Michigan Writer. Hope to see you this summer. And as always, thanks for reading! -PMc←

A Writer Sees, An Artist Writes ~ Gerard Woodward and Philip Hartigan in Conversation

The very fine visual artist and art writer Philip Hartigan (as many of you know) is my husband. He is also the curator and writer of the art blog Praeterita. And he and I teach a course called “Journal and Sketchbook” at various locations and to various populations. (Next up, a semester long course in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago.)

This fine line and connection between the visual and literary arts has always been of interest to Philip. Here then, is a brief excerpt from an interview he did with Gerard Woodward, one of my favorite contemporary writers (check out the conversation he took part in for this site here.) I encourage you to click through to Philip’s website and see the images and video connected to the post as well.

Artist-Writer Artist: Gerard Woodward (excerpted from Praeterita, by Philip Hartigan)

I am extremely pleased that poet and author Gerard Woodward agreed to be interviewed for this series. Gerard and my wife, Patty, were colleagues for a short while at the end of 2008, when Patty taught for one semester at Bath Spa University, where Gerard is a faculty member in the Creative Writing program. Gerard spent the spring semester of 2011 in Chicago on a reciprocal visit. Gerard has published poetry, short-stories, and novels. “Householder”, his 1991 collection of poetry, won the Somerset Maugham Award in the UK, and his novel “I’ll Go to bed at Noon” was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. Of his most recent novel, “Nourishment”, The Daily Telegraph reviewer wrote: “It is a novel to be savoured, and Woodward is a novelist to be treasured.” It turns out that in addition to his success as a writer, Gerard started his adult life in art college, and still draws and paints when he can. So here, from a writer’s point of view, is a discussion about how a writer sees, how a writer draws, and what parallels he observes between the sister arts.

PH: Your first stint in higher education was at an art college (and I believe you are married to a visual artist). What do you remember about yourself and your relation to visual art at that time in your life?

GW: I chose to go to art school as a way of escaping the humdrum working life I was living at that time. I left school at 16, convinced there would be a nuclear war by 1985, and didn’t want to waste my life in sixth form. So instead, I wasted it working in a Tescos supermarket (and many other places – I had six jobs in two years). So going to art school was a way of escape – but I didn’t choose it out of any life-long ambition to be an artist. In fact I didn’t want to be an artist at all, and had originally applied to do graphics, with an eye to being something like a designer of some sort eventually. But then, when I got there, I met lots of people who wanted to be artists, and we hung around in little groups sneering at graphics students with their scalpels and their letraset sets. So I switched, during my foundation year, to fine art, in the full knowledge that I’d just signed away any chance I’d had of getting the good job I’d come to art school to get, and would be likely to end up back in the factories I’d tried to escape. (read more…)
Thanks for reading! – PMc

Shaking Things Up At Shake Rag Alley

William Burroughs, Franz Kafka, Sylvia Plath, Sylvia Plath, Maxine Hong Kingston, William Faulkner, Kara Walker, William Blake, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat. What do these writers and artists have in common? They all use both writing and drawing in their creative practices. And at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI, August 8 – 11, 2011 writers and artists will join together to explore the possibilities of combining writing and drawing as a way to enhance their own work.

Philip Hartigan and I will be teaching our popular Journal and Sketchbook workshop in the mornings of that week, and Philip will teach Making Artists’ Books in the afternoon. These are separate workshops that can be taken individually or together. From the Shake Rag Alley catalogue:

Journal & Sketchbook and Making Artists’ Books are designed to complement one another so participants may take both. Taken together, these workshops will help you create your own artists’ books and discover and create content for them as well.

Journal & Sketchbook is geared toward writers and artists of all levels. Activities will help you use visual note taking, writing, and expressive mark making to help you record memories, observations, imaginings, stories, and visual narratives. This pairing and interplay of text and image is a time-honored artistic tradition, practiced by writers and artists from Mark Twain to Henri Matisse to Jean-Michel Basquiat, and is useful for all manner of creative expression. ens.

Making Artists’ Books is designed to meet each participant at his/her own skill and experience level. Learn how to make your own unique, one-of-a-kind artist’s books. The course shows you how to: select the right paper for your project; create your pages using printmaking (linocuts, monoprint), drawings, collage, paintings; make a variety of book formats such as accordion books, star books, map-fold books, and simple pamphlets; bind and collate your pages in a variety of stitching methods. You will also consider how to make an artist’s book out of found materials. Many materials will be provided, but participants are encouraged to bring photos, art supplies, and anything with a flat surface that might be used in book arts.

Evening activities during getaway include: Monday night artist presentation and talk by instructor Philip Hartigan; Tuesday evening reading and author conversation by instructor Patricia Ann McNair; Thursday evening closing reception, reading, and exhibition by workshop participants.

Class Schedule: Journal & Sketchbook, M-Th, 9-12; Making Artists’ Books, M-Th 1-4. Participants enrolled in just one workshop will have optional open and guided studio time.

To register for Journal and Sketchbook and/or Creating Artists’ Books, contact Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts & Crafts, 18 Shake Rag Street, Mineral Point, WI 53565; Telephone: (608) 987-3292 :: www.ShakeRagAlley.com :: info@shakeragalley.com

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More on the work we do in these workshops at The Writing Life” blog by Katey Schultz and Philip’s various posts on “Praeterita.” Writers: don’t be afraid; stick figures count. Artists: don’t be afraid; every word counts. Images above are scrambled collages of well-known writers/artists, participant work from past workshops, and Shake Rag Alley, respectively. -PMc←

Oh, Interlochen, I Miss You So ~ A Brief Summary of a Writers’ Retreat

How could it possibly have gone by so fast? Interlochen College of Creative Arts Writers’ Retreat of 2011 was four days full of writers reading, talking, writing, eating, imbibing, walking, sharing, sleeping (just a little,) listening, and yes, drawing.

We are back at our house in Mt. Carroll, IL, and are happy for our own bed, our two crazy cats, our full-size refrigerator, our own cooker (as the British, Philip’s people, call it.) What I am missing, though, is so much. Of course, the trees. The beautiful smells of Northern Michigan, the lakes that are small and great. The creative aura that is Interlochen Center for the Arts.

I find myself thinking back to moments and people;

  • Ava and Philip with their heads down over their work on the reduction linocut print for the dedication of the Mallory-Towsley Building.
  • Dinner with Matt and Angela, their delightful children making us laugh and marvel.
  • Walking along Diamond Park Road and into the collection of houses near the lake, amidst the wetlands–a path I ran daily during my residency at Interlochen in 2001. A place that appears in my stories.
  • Meeting, talking with, and hearing the fine, fine work of my fellow faculty: Fleda Brown, Tony Ardizzone, Katey Schultz, and of course, Anne-Marie Oomen. (Oh yeah, and Philip, too.)
  • Annie finding her way in the poetry workshop.
  • Linda showing her chops as a real writer.
  • Jo Anne’s kind face and beautiful drawings, her collections of memories about travels and places important to her.
  • Joan lighting up like one of her own students as she made new discoveries.
  • Lindsey doing what she always does, writing her way toward understanding, and doing it so well.
  • Lynn celebrating her birthday with ballet turns, new drawings, a new section of work-in-progress, and plastic rings and cupcakes. (Oh, and two dead mice!)
  • Viki surprising me deeply and delightfully, despite my having known her for–could it be?–nearly two decades now.
  • Ferdy taking the risk and reading his work off his phone.
  • Theresa, Lindsay, John, Terry, leaving me lost in their worlds after their readings.
  • Lucricia and Sam, such a dear couple, each following their dreams and holding hands on the way.
  • Opera on the lakefront in the dark.
  • And Gail, dear Gail, on the other side of the wall, putting up with Philip’s high jinx and giving comfort and camaraderie just by being there. (And her writing!)
  • John and Meredith making the trek to hear us read and to hang for a while after.
  • Selling and signing books. Felt a little like Sally Field: “You like me! You really like me!”
  • Talking blogs with Kristen, whose own is both beautiful and mouthwatering.
  • Rachel making me feel as though my stories can move even the toughest of customers, and hearing her own affecting novel-in-progress.
  • Sharkie.
  • A hug from Delp, whom I adore.
  • An escape the weekend before the retreat (pre-retreat retreat) with Philip to Empire, watching the great lake roll toward the shore, eating marvelous food and watching junk tv and…well, you get the picture.
  • Dinner with a crowd of excited new friends at the conclusion of the week.
  • And perhaps most of all, dinner before it all started with Anne-Marie and David, two of the world’s best people (no hyperbole here) who are such a joy to be with. Anne-Marie has shown me so much about how to live a writing life of meaning, and David is evidence of how to live the rest of your life, too, with warmth and compassion, with generosity and good deeds. What a couple!
Yes, I’m gushing. And there is likely more to gush about. But for now, that’s what you get. If you don’t believe me, then you should see for yourself. It’s an annual thing.
Sharkita holding court at the dinner table. Everyone likes a big fish story.

On Writing Away ~ Choosing a Writers’ Workshop Retreat

Bolstered by coffee, cookies, and support, a group of four writers gathered together at Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts and Crafts in Mineral Point, Wisconsin to take part in four days of writing, reading, manuscript review, and story sharing.

It was my good fortune to direct the June Writers’ Workshop at Shake Rag Alley, a community arts center founded by artists and arts enthusiasts in what looks like a Cornish mining village settled in a century passed. The participants were from a variety of backgrounds and concerns, among them an Op-ed writer from Northwestern Illinois, a mother of four (who also is a working engineer) from Iowa, an early-retired special education teacher from the Galena, Illinois area, and a high-powered business women from Boston. Their stories (the ones they are writing and the ones we shared over lunch and the occasional after-class beer) were diverse in their content and in their ways of telling. From social commentary to pieces on faith and spiritually to raising a multiracial family to fiction that explored grief and childhood in small town Louisiana, the writing done for and in the workshop was topical, funny, and moving.

It is a pleasure to work with such a group of folks who use at least part of their free time to further their own skills and talents. The seriousness of purpose these four brought to the writing table each day helped them discover new moments of story and new possibilities in the work. Pages and pages of writing was done, and since the end of the workshop just four days, and I know from notes I’ve received that the writing habit has taken hold for these writers, despite their busy lives and other obligations and interests.

Sometimes it is just the act of keeping the work going that is the hardest part of writing. Programs like this and the August Journal and Sketchbook workshop at Shake Rag Alley, as well as the upcoming Writers’ Retreat at Interlochen College of Creative Arts can help us develop on-going strategies to get the words on the page. It is so easy to move away from the writing life; why not take the steps back toward it by finding a workshop? Below are some simple steps to choosing the right workshop for you:

  1. Determine your level of commitment. Workshops run in different ways and for different lengths of time. You can spend an afternoon to two weeks or more in a writers’ workshop. How much time and effort can you afford now?
  2. Determine your budget. The cost of these workshops vary widely. Many of the tuition costs don’t include housing or transportation, so look at all of these line items together when making your plan. Housing can vary greatly as well. You can camp near Interlochen, or stay in one of the summer camp-like cabins. Shake Rag has very upscale B&B offerings in town, as well as the perfectly affordable and suitable motor courts and motels close by. Some workshops are held on campuses where you can stay in dorms and in some cases share rooms and costs.
  3. Find a place you would love to be. So many workshops are held in beautiful settings like Mineral Point, WI, and Interlochen, MI. Stonecoast Writers’ Conference is held on Casco Bay in Maine. There are workshops on remote islands and in the middle of bustling cities. What setting will inspire you? And just in case you are unhappy with the workshop itself, you want to make sure that you are in a place you enjoy and can escape to and in.
  4. Research your instructors. It is always a good idea to find out about the work of your instructors. While it is true that a good teacher is one who can respond well and helpfully to each student, you might want to at least know what sorts of things your writing teacher writes, get at least a minimal understanding of their artistic sensibilities. This of course won’t save you from a bad workshop (years ago I attended a workshop with a writer whose work I admired greatly. He was not a good teacher, however, and seemed to take a bit of pleasure in insulting his students and in some cases bringing them to tears) but it will give you some context for the work at hand.
  5. Research the workshop. Most workshops, conferences, and retreats will have quite a bit of information available for you ahead of time. What will the schedule be like? Are manuscripts to be submitted ahead of time? Is the course aimed at generating work, discovering and exploring work? Is it a critique-based course? Are there excursions and social activities embedded in the schedule? Will participants get a chance to read their work to a larger audience? Will there be craft talks and readings about and from a variety of genres? Is there time to write? To read? Not each workshop is all things to every participant, so consider what you want and make your choice based on this. Also, though, be open to a manner of working that might be different from your usual MO. Shaking things up creatively will almost always lead you to interesting work.
  6. Go with an open mind and empty pages. You’re paying for this. Try things out; get your money’s worth. Don’t be afraid.
  7. Don’t talk yourself out of it. How many times have you decided you CAN’T do the things you want to do? The writer Hubert Selby, Jr., gave students at Columbia College Chicago some very good advice a number of years ago. He said it is good practice to say “yes” before you think of all the reasons to say “no.” If you think a writers’ workshop, conference, or retreat is a good idea for your own creative practice, then sign up now.
The garden path at Smejas' Studio in Mineral Point, Wisconsin

There are still spaces left for Interlochen’s Writers’ Retreat that will start in just a couple of weeks. Check it out. For more on Shake Rag Alley, click here. To read an interview with Judith Sutcliffe, one of the founding artists’ of Shake Rag, stop by Philip Hartigan’s Praeterita. And thanks again to my Shake Rag Writers’ Workshop participants. Don’t forget to write! -PMc←