Two online workshops

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I’m sure quite a few people know this about me now, but for the sake of setting things up properly, I’ll say it again. I’ve been studying creative writing for the past three years. I’m just about done with my undergraduate degree, and in the second semester of this year I’ll most likely be doing creative writing honours for another year. But over the Summer holidays (Summer being December-February, for you northern hemisphere folks), I decided to try new things to build on my writing skills so I signed up for an online writing workshop in December, and then I signed up for another one in January-February.

The first workshop was run by Jeremy C. Shipp, author of Cursed, editor of the anthology, Aberrations, amongst other things I, admittedly, had not read going into the workshop. He also wrote the short story, the Sun Never Rises in the Big City, which I have read by now, and it is fantastic. Now, the workshop ran for four weeks, and it was rigidly structured to focus on a lot of small exercises, and a couple of large assignments that involve the efforts and contributions from the whole workshop group. What we wrote and what we learned in those four weeks weren’t revolutionary new secrets no one has ever thought of doing before. It was a really fundamental course that attacked creative writing from a head-on, practical perspective. It zeroed in on all the things we should be focusing on, but are things that easily slip by the wayside and let your standards drop considerably. By doing this, we were able to get some high quality stuff out of the workshop. The techniques and skills Shipp gives us really help us to write fresh, original, and entertaining stories, and there are also some great tips on getting our writing out into the creative writing community, finding a home for our writing, getting our writing careers off the ground. Because of this, the workshop is appropriate for pretty much any writer who doesn’t already have their books and short stories published about the place. It’s a great workshop for aspiring writers to fine tune their skills before they go out into the big scary world of publishers and editors and an endless sea of rejection.

The second workshop was run by Garrett Cook, author of Jimmy Plush, Archelon Ranch, and the Murderland Series. I’ve read Jimmy Plush, and a short story of Garrett’s from the Bizarro Starter Kit Purple, and I’ve got to say, his writing is fantastically outrageous. This workshop ran from about mid-January to about mid-February, and it wasn’t as formulaic as Shipp’s workshop, but that’s because the two workshops cater to two different markets and have two completely different goals. Garrett’s workshop is targeted towards writers looking to become more involved with bizarro fiction. Where Shipp focused on basic techniques, Garrett pretty much just gave us a starting point, a basic prompt for a bizarro story and threw us into the deep end. His prompts were good, although I found myself struggling to come up with things at times. For me, I found the most valuable thing about this workshop was the feedback. One thing I find about being a writer in general is that it’s important to learn when you’re doing something right and when you’re doing something wrong (although it’s rarely that black and white), and it’s a huge motivation when other (more experienced) writers can confirm your own suspicions. I knew my first couple of stories were a little off, and it was great to hear that, yeah, this isn’t working quite like it should, maybe try doing this differently or doing that. Garrett’s good with that stuff. And because it was a small workshop, Garrett spent the time getting to know what each of us wanted to get out of the workshop, and to help us achieve this. Part way through the workshop I decided to act on a piece of information he’d given the workshop group and started working on a novella. And because he knew that myself, and some of the other workshop members had the same goal, our last assignment was to let loose and work on that. I ended up finishing a 17,000 word draft during that workshop. At the end of Garrett’s workshop, I had a bunch of scrappy drafts of really cool ideas that are totally workable.

I’d like to extend a huge thanks to Jeremy and Garrett, and maybe I’ll come back and do another workshop run by you guys sometime (I’m certainly tempted to join Garrett’s next workshop, co-run with the fantastic Mr. Bradley Sands). While my creative writing studies at university have been very worthwhile, these two workshops have taught me things I never would have learned at uni. I got an overwhelming motivational boost from Jeremy C. Shipp, and some practically critical encouragement from Garrett Cook. If you’re an inspiring writer, or if you’re a bizarro (or both), these workshops are worth both your time and your money.

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Absence and Addiction

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Yeah, I haven’t written a blog at all this month. Let’s change that.

First issue to address, I haven’t blogged because I’ve been writing. Sometimes I find that I’ll spend way too much time on facebook or twitter of wordpress trying to the whole social networking thing, connecting with people, setting up nodes and shifting paradigms and all that sort of stuff. I often find that I spend too much time doing that and not enough time doing what I really want to be doing, and that’s writing. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve still been checking in with facebook and twitter a lot, but I’ve been trying to force myself into at least writing something in between doing things. Over the past couple of weeks I wrote a 17,000 word story in mostly short bursts. And I’m really happy with that. And now that I’m done, maybe I can get back to doing a few more frequent blogs, read some more, try to get a few more reviews up on here, on goodreads, and on amazon.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’d like to talk about a couple of movies I’ve watched recently: Requiem for a Dream, and Trainspotting. Two films, both about people struggling with drug addiction, one American, one British. Both are fantastic films that I really probably should have watched years ago.

I’ll start with Trainspotting, because it’s a nicer film. It’s not so… soul destroying as Requiem.

It’s a constant struggle, Renton keeps on coming back to the same shit, promising he’ll be clean after one more hit, one more hit, one more hit. It’s rough, but those scottish guys are tough bastards. And while they’re pushed to the limits, their friendship tested, their world turned upside down, there’s always some faint glimpse of hope. Just like there’s two sides to their addiction, the highs and the lows, there’s the chance for redemption. It’s a really well made film, and the characters are relatable, they’re easy to sympathise with. It’s easy to hate on drug addicts in films, so it’s good to see something that humanises them and gives them a name and a face and a character and draws you into their world. On the other side, it’s not like they’re condoning this sort of lifestyle either. It’s ugly, it’s violent, it’s cruel. One thing I really enjoyed about this film was that when the main characters got royally fucked over by life, they got up again, and got up again, and got up again. And in the end, you believe there is hope for some of them, and that, while Renton has gone back to using drugs a number of times throughout the film, he just might have kicked the habit for good this time around.

Requiem for a Dream is a real descent into madness. It reminds me of stuff like A Clockwork Orange and American Psycho, with the portrayal of sex, drugs, and violence. And the camerawork and editing reminds me of Fight Club and the films of Edgar Wright in terms of the use of rapid cut editing, that shaky camera effect and shit. The film is beautifully put together, and the chaotic montages really add to the paranoia and terror of the film. It starts with stealing a tv to get some cash, and then it gets to dealing drugs to keep up the addiction. They plan on doing things with their lives but they get stuck in a loop and they get sucked deeper and they become increasingly more desparate. Unlike Trainspotting, Requiem is all on the downhill. Only more addiction.  Harry’s mother becomes addicted to diet pills. In this film, there are no winners. You spend an hour and a half hoping something good happens to the main protagonists, but it just gets worse. Darren Aronofsky spares no sympathy for these characters. It’s not a pretty film. There’s no upside to the addiction, only the characters’ delusions that more will bring them happiness. Their delusion clouds their judgements. They cheat their friends and family and make promises to each other and themselves that fall through. This is pretty much a “worst case scenario” sort of thing. And the ending of this film just doesn’t hold anything back.

I’m not really preachy one way or another about drugs, but I really enjoyed these films, both about heroin addiction. Probably because the characters were fascinating and the plot was solid. That, and great camerawork and music meant they were really well made films no matter what they were about. The fact that they weren’t letting preachiness or aesthetics get in the way of a good story just made me love them more. I love films that aren’t afraid to spiral out of control or show the ugly/fucked up side of life. And tonight I’m going to watch the Beach for the first time in a long time. Nothing like a bit of paradise gone to the shithouse.