Interview with Dr. Julia Deisler!
1. If I love to write but have trouble finishing stories, can this class help me?
If you’re having trouble finishing because you lose momentum, I think you’ll find that the progression of writing assignments will help you. We’ll do lots of what I call priming the pump–using a wide variety of writing prompts to create material to draw from in developing stories–and then from that semi-raw material will come rough stories from which you’ll pick two, toward the end of the class, to revise and really complete.
If you’re instead having trouble finding the right endings for your stories, we’ll also be discussing and working with different approaches to beginning and ending stories as part of the class.
2. What are you, the teacher, reading these days?
Over the summer, I took a long-ish road trip–about 2000 miles round trip–and (once again) blessed audible books for allowing my road trip also to be an opportunity for reading or re-reading a few longer works. Two that stand out are Tommy Orange’s There There, which I’d read before, but quickly, and Trevor Noah’s (non-fiction) Born a Crime about growing up in South Africa as a child of parents whose getting together and having a child–because one parent was black and the other white–was against the law. Re-reading There Thereby listening to it made me appreciate even more the skillful use of language and structure to move the story forward and reinforce the inter relatedness of characters and events. Reading Born a Crime impressed me for all I learned about that piece of South African history, during and in the aftermath of Apartheid, from the perspective of someone who had an in with several cultural groups, and adapted well to each, while also being a kind of perpetual outsider.
I’ve been also reading lots of short fiction–not just in the short story collections we’ll be reading from in the class but in a range of places–in whatever books or web collections of short stories drew me in. One that really struck me–for the tricky way the implications of things snuck up on me–was Jo Ann Beard’s “The Tomb of Wrestling,” which first appeared in Tin House in 2017 and then was selected for an O. Henry Prize in 2018. The story begins, “She struck her attacker in the head with a shovel, a small one that she normally left in the trunk of her car for moving things off the highway”–and I’m going to leave it there. I may put it on reserve for the class to look at during the semester.
3. Can this class help me with feeling blocked or uninspired?
Yes, it can. What I’ve heard students say is that taking a class like this–where we write regularly in response to prompts that may take us away from familiar ground (or cause us to see the familiar from a different perspective)–has helped them to shake something loose, and they end up producing work that surprised and pleased them.
Different writers give the advice to write and read every day–to submerge yourself in writing. I kind of like the way Ray Bradbury frames it as an experimental diet to try in Zen in the Art of Writing: “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” I’ve seen a fair number of counter-responses to it entitled things like “Why writing every day doesn’t work” and “writing advice that really pisses me off.” However, you won’t know if it works for you until you try it, and exploring what works best for each of us–as writers–is part of what the class is about. What tricks/habits help you to stay on track, generate new ideas, and keep writing?
4. Do you, as teacher, have a favorite quotation about writing?
I have lots, and I could go in many directions here, but one that often comes to mind is Ursula Le Guin’s cryptic statement in her introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness that “a novelist’s true business is lying.” It’s of course not just about lying (after all, she calls it a “true business”!); it’s also about how good fiction is absolutely true, not just despite but actually because of the way the story emerges from/within the lying.
And then here’s one more I have to add in because reading it the other day made me want to head off for an extended writing retreat. It’s from a 1993 interview with Toni Morrison in The Paris Review in which she touches on what writing was for her, what it meant, what it did. She said, “what makes me feel as though I belong here out in this world is not the teacher, not the mother, not the lover, but what goes on in my mind when I am writing. Then I belong here and then all of the things that are disparate and irreconcilable can be useful. I can do the traditional things that writers always say they do, which is to make order out of chaos. Even if you are reproducing the disorder, you are sovereign at that point. Struggling through the work is extremely important—more important to me than publishing it.” (For the full interview, seehttps://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1888/toni-morrison-the-art-of-fiction-no-134-toni-morrison.)
5. Anything you want to add? I am really looking forward to teaching fiction-writing again and trying it out in the online format. I also want to encourage folks to sign up for the in-person literature class on short fiction this semester if they’ve got the time. It can be really rich–sort of like a genre intensive–to write fiction in one class, reading others’ stories to study craft, and to study fiction as literature in another class, still looking at craft but also analyzing the stories in the context of historical, cultural, philosophical, aesthetic, and other trends.
If anyone’s interested in enrolling in either of the two classes, go to www.sfcc.edu to register. Here are the details:
ENGL 2320 Introduction to Fiction Writing online (CRN 21146) (begins August 19)
ENGL 2380 Introduction to Short Fiction (CRN 21461) 11:30-12:45 TR (begins August 20)