Tag Archives: learning to write

Desert Nights, Rising Stars

2011 conference participants relaxing in the Piper Writers House garden between classes (Photo: Kevin S. Moul)

The “Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference” takes place Feb. 23-26 on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, home to the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

The conference welcomes writers of all levels — who enjoy opportunities to hone their craft in the classroom with distinguished writers and dialogue with fellow writers during classes, readings and other events. 

2011 Desert Nights, Rising Stars class (Photo: Kevin S. Moul)

Conference organizers note that keeping the number of participants small provides an experience that is “both intimate and affordable.” Registration for this year’s conference closes on Jan. 27.

Those who register can sign-up for optional master classes for an additional charge. As of Friday morning, there were still “a few seats available” in the fiction master class with Mat Johnson. Johnson’s bio notes that the author is “a novelist who sometimes writes other things.”

Reading by author Robert Boswell during the 2011 Desert Nights, Rising Stars conference (Photo: Kevin S. Moul)

This year’s conference blends returning and new faculty. Returning faculty members include Robert Boswell, an author of eleven books who lives in Texas, Colorado and New Mexico.

I was delighted to learn that high school students register for the conference each year. Organizers note that the conference is appropriate for “mature high school juniors and seniors” — adding that several high school students who’ve attended prior conferences “were fully engaged in the sessions and inspired to continue with their writing.”

Participants are required to register for all four days, but individual tickets for some faculty readings are made available “as space allows” just before the conference.

Exterior of Old Main on the ASU campus, site of most conference classes, readings and panels (Photo: Kevin S. Moul)

“Desert Nights, Rising Stars” begins the evening of Thurs, Feb. 23 with an opening banquet and the introduction of faculty. Both Friday and Saturday offerings begin with a keynote address, followed by discussion classes and master classes.

Afternoons feature faculty readings and a combination of classes, panels and multi-faculty Q & A sessions. Faculty readings and book signings round out the days.

Bios and photographs for 16 conference faculty members and 17 additional guests are available on the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing website, and I’m having great fun exploring them.

So far I’ve uncovered faculty from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, California, Florida and Wales. All specialize in one of three areas — fiction, nonfiction or poetry. Many appear to lead fascinating lives beyond pen and page.

2011 Q & A with authors Robert Boswell, Tara Ison and Jem Poster in the Piper Writers House (Photo: Kevin S. Moul)

Folks can click here for a comprehensive rundown of conference FAQs that answer all but one simple question — Why would anyone who travels to Arizona in March ever decide to go home again?

– Lynn

Note: The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing also offers a distinguished visiting writers series, writing classes, author readings and other events. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: Library meets latte, Schoolhouse tales

A playwright’s journey

Arizona playwright, performer and director Kim Porter

“I was an actor first,” recalls Kim Porter, a Valley mother of two whose play titled “Munched” opens next month at Space 55 in Phoenix. It’s the tale of a mother with Munchausen syndrome and the grown daughter who asks “Why?”

Porter says she began “noodling around with writing” in high school, fantasizing that she’d one day write novels while wearing sweaters in New England. “I’d turn out a few pages,” muses Porter, “then crap out.”

“No one ever taught me to write,” shares Porter. Instead, she learned by doing. Porter toyed with sketch comedy before tackling solo shows. “I had funny ideas, but no conflict.” Porter recalls needing a “writing 101 class” but instead taught herself how to write.

Soon Porter, living in San Francisco at the time, became the “go to person” for theater folk eager to pen their own plays. She’d found her “niche” in teaching and coaching others. “By watching others make mistakes, I learned more about writing,” reflects Porter. “That’s my heart’s work,” she says.

When career opportunities opened for her husband here in Phoenix, and the “arcane process” of choosing the best school fit for daughter Colette felt too frustrating, Porter and her husband headed to Arizona — where Porter is now a member of the Space 55 ensemble. Porter will be performing the lead role in “Munched,” a work first conceived shortly after her daughter was born.

“Munched” originated during wee hour (think 1 am) nursing sessions. “I had one arm underneath the baby,” recalls Porter, “and another clicking arond on the mommy boards.” She discovered “all these stories of judging mothers, but also anger towards the medical establishment.”

The mommy blogs were full of birth stories — Porter calls them “horror stories” — in which the childbirth experience so many expected to be perfectly blissful went awry. But Porter read more than mommy blogs. One book, titled “Geek Love,” stuck with her. “I was moved and horrified,” she recalls, “by all those people who had self-mutilated.”

“What kind of person,” wondered Porter, “mutilates themselves or others?” Each time Porter encountered a story of mutilation, medical malpractice or maternal misconduct, she found herself going back and forth about whether the person at the heart of the story was innocent or guilty.

Porter coupled these musings with her belief that everyone yearns “for a time when they were a lap baby.” Even grown-ups, she says, feel a primal longing to be cuddled by their mothers. “What,” Porter wondered, “would the loss of a mom or child feel like?” She wanted to explore the interconnectedness of mother and child “in all its healthy and unhealthy” ways.

Munched by Kim Porter is meant for mature audiences

The result was “Munched,” which Porter describes as “a who-done-it and a love story.” She’s careful to halt her description there, preferring that parents experience the work for themselves rather than hearing her take on what they’re likely to think or feel while encountering it.

The Space 55 production of “Munched” is directed by Duane Daniels, who previously directed the work in Los Angeles. Shawna Franks, a Space 55 founder who serves as artistic director, praises Daniels for being open to his actors while keeping his own vision.

Franks credits a series of Tuesday night dinners she once hosted for fellow playwrights with launching Space 55. The company will revisit their very first production, “7 Minutes in Heaven,” for its seventh anniversary next June.

Franks hails from theater-rich Chicago and, like Porter, is a proud mother of two. So what does Franks think of Porter’s work? “I’m deeply committed,” shares Franks, “to her writing, her talent and her voice.” Franks sees “Munched” as the perfect fit for Space 55, noting that the ensemble-based company favors “new, original and rarely seen” works.

Like Porter, Space 55 is on a journey. During the next several years, Franks hopes to increase funding for Space 55, give birth to offshoots producing fresh new works and help launch works like “Munched” onto the national stage.

They’re off to a good start. The Space 55 production of playwright Greg Kotis’ “The Unhappiness Plays” was part of this year’s New York International Fringe Festival, and “Munched” will be performed by Sugar Valley Theatricals at Manhattan Theatre Source come November.

Porter’s days of “crapping out” seem well behind her, replaced by the ability to steadfastly shepherd an idea from conception to maturity. How lovely to travel the joint journey of parenting and playwriting with the sheer joy and terror that each can bring.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Munchausen syndrome by proxy, here to learn more about Space 55 and here to learn more about playwright Kim Porter.

Coming up: MLK takes center stage, Opportunities for young writers

Ready, set, write…

Both this metal quill and the black marble inkwell below, created in 1994 by artist Larry Kirkman, are visible as you enter the Scottsdale Civic Center library

There’s a lovely house in Tempe that’s home to the ASU Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Its Piper Writer Studio offers writing classes for adults of all ability levels, and registration for their fall offerings in underway.

All courses are led by an experienced writer and teacher. Some take place in the historic Piper Writers House on the ASU Tempe campus. Others are offered online. Your Fall 2011 choices include an eight week poetry session and two four week fiction sessions. Online poetry and fiction courses are also available.

Artworks offer plenty of writing inspiration

Several one day classes are scheduled for October. Topics include memory versus imagination, the art of the very short story, tools for writing dynamic characters and more. Costs are reasonable and discounts are given to “Piper Friends.”

The Arizona Authors Association keeps a calendar of writing-related events offered around the Valley and the state. Think book signings, writers club meetings, writing seminars  and more. Some are meant for writers of a particular genre like romance or mystery. There are groups for Christian writers, groups for women writers and plenty more.

I need a group for writers who write about other writers. Maybe I should head out to ASU’s Piper Center for the 2011-12 “Distinguished Visiting Writers Series” featuring free public lectures by writers here for residencies with ASU faculty and graduate students. The fall lineup includes poets Tony Barnstone and Bruce Weigl, plus novelist Aimee Bender.

Writers often tout the value of a rich reading life in honing the craft of writing, so your local bookstore is a good place to check for writing-related events and classes. Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, for example, has offerings that include a mystery bookgroup, a poetry roundtable and more.

I pause to admire this work (the quill and inkwell pictured above) every time I visit my local library

One of my favorite pairs of writers, Amy Silverman and Deborah Sussman Susser, lead “Mothers Who Write” workshops just a couple of times each year at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. These puppies fill quickly.

Keep an eye on local museums, libraries, theater companies and community colleges for additional writing workshops and opportunities to interact with other writers. We’re interesting folk and better than you might think at sharing.

– Lynn

Coming up: Celebrating International Peace Day

The smell of childhood?

Orange blossom soap from Athens Locally Grown

When I connected recently with Tempe mother and journalist Amy Silverman, she shared a bit with me about her Arizona childhood.

Seems she’d recently purchased a bar of soap with an orange blossom scent. “It literally made me sick,” Silverman told me. “It smelled like my childhood.”

In a sentence, sometimes less, Silverman conjures detailed images that transport readers to other places and perspectives.

Orange blossom cheesecake from Atlanta Cheesecake Company

Hence her many accolades and awards. She’s been twice honored by the Arizona Press Club with the Virg Hill Journalist of the Year award.

For 18 years she’s worked for Phoenix New Times — serving the last six as managing editor.

Still, Silverman finds time to share her talents with others. She’s co-founder, along with Deborah Sussman Susser, of a “Mothers Who Write” class that helps women find and share their voices.

A public reading by “Mothers Who Write” participants (past and present) takes place Sat, May 7 from 2-4pm at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. It’s free and open to the public, though some material may not be suitable for children.

Orange blossom gift basket from LadyBug Great Gifts

I’d like to see Silverman pen a children’s book. Perhaps something about Praying Monk on Camelback Mountain — a Valley landmark Silverman says she’s always thought of as “the camel’s eyelash.”

Silverman and her husband have two daughters, so she’s got plenty of pearls about both parenting and poising the pen. Registration for the next 10-week “Mothers Who Write” workshop will begin July 1 through the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Orange blossom cocktail from Science of Drink

The workshop offers “support and advice for writing mothers (of all ages) who want to develop their craft and receive feedback on their work.” Though all genres are welcome, the main focus is creative non-fiction, poetry and fiction.

Visit the “Mothers Who Write” website to learn more about classes, readings and the many adventures of “Mothers Who Write” alumni — including Deborah Rich Gettleman of Theatre Artists Studio and Raising Arizona Kids Magazine.

And keep an eye out for the June 2011 issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine — because the ever-fascinating Silverman and her family are profiled in the “AZ Generations” column.

– Lynn

Note: Click here for a list of journalists who’ve won 2010 Arizona Press Club awards — which includes two mothers who write for Raising Arizona Kids magazine. Winners will be recognized May 21 at the Arizona Press Club Awards Party in Phoenix.

Coming: More mothers who write

Books & beyond

This new book will appeal to fans of musical theater

Mall it if you must, but I’m hitting the bookstores instead. Places like Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe feel more like community gathering places than retail shopping spaces.

Bring your holiday shopping list along, but be prepared to enjoy much more than their extensive collection of books and gift items.

Author visits and book signings are a frequent occurence at Changing Hands — and feature local as well as nationally-renowned authors. Some write for adults, others for children and teens.

A lovey selection for young music and cat lovers

My own personal favorite is fellow Arizona parent Amy Silverman — mom of two daughters, managing editor of Phoenix New Times and half of a dynamic “Mothers Who Write” duo offering writing workshops.

Silverman presents “Holidaze: How to Write About the Happiest Time of the Year,” at Changing Hands Bookstore on Tues, Dec 2.

For poetry lovers, Changing Hands offers “First Friday Poetry,” “Poetry Roundtable” and other events. There’s plenty for photographers too.

One of several Twyla Tharp titles for creative types

My fellow magazine readers will find an eclectic selection of titles for folks of all ages and interests — including many you won’t find at more traditional book stores or magazine stands.

“Workshop for Toddlers” with Ramie Manch on Mon, Dec 6, mixes toddler/parent together time with strategies for using puzzles to enhance academic and social skills.

Changing Hands has a charming children’s area full of colorful books, toys, puzzles, craft kits, stuffed animals, puppets and more.

Teen events include writing workshops, author visits and much more. Teens love the Changing Hands vibe, and will have a great time exploring Hoodlums Music & Movies right next door.

Gift idea for art managers and leaders

If music is your thing, check out the “East Valley Music School Concert” Sat, Dec 4. If stories rock your world, you’ll find plenty of storytimes at Changing Hands. They’ve even got opportunities to learn a bit of Spanish.

Changing Hands has diverse holiday offerings — commemorating Hannukah, Winter Solstice, Christmas and more. They also host local artisans on a regular basis so you can enjoy even more holiday gift ideas.

While reviewing their December calendar (I’m on their e-mail list to receive info on author series, workshops and community events), I stumbled on sign language, physics, wildlife, volunteerism and more.

One of many titles on my holiday reading list

Books are just a bit of the bounty you’ll find at Changing Hands Bookstore. Go. Listen. Read. Create. Meet. Explore.

– Lynn

Note: Changing Hands Bookstore, like Raising Arizona Kids Magazine, is a member of Local First Arizona. Click here to learn about local businesses that appreciate your support during the holiday season and beyond.

Coming up: Art adventures–Arizona Science Center

Behind the blog

Recently I got an e-mail asking how I “choose the events and shows to feature” in my blog. In a word, I suppose, it’s whimsy. It’s an act of writing, not reporting, driven as much by inspiration as information. 

I started my “Stage Mom” gig as a way to share my love of theater and the arts with others, and to support a Raising Arizona Kids magazine mission that I have long supported: helping families find local resources to assist them in making the many choices we all face as parents.

I’m the mother of three children, ages 17 to 21, who have grown up with the arts at the center of family life — visiting museums, making art at home, studying music and dance, performing in community theater, attending exhibits and performances by Valley arts organizations.

Often it starts with the hunt. Thursday I lugged a huge pink three-ring binder along as I treated my son to lunch. He likes to linger over his meals so we’re both more relaxed when I can mix conversation with other creative tasks.

The binder holds information I’ve gathered on various arts organizations and their schedules for the upcoming season — and is a convenient way for me to track what’s coming up and how various things might be related.

I got the feeling younger technology-types felt they’d just eyed a digital dinosaur — but there’s no money for fancy toys with three sets of college tuition on the horizon. And my staff consists of a single grey long-haired cat named “Pinky.”

I sometimes eye these materials in search of common threads, like animals in art, because those posts allow me to feature several events and organizations at once — giving the reader more bang for the blog.

It’s a careful balance between hunting and pecking. Time spent seeking out events is time I can’t spend writing and spreading the word. So I rely more and more these days on organizations and venues getting in touch with me to alert me to upcoming exhibits, performances and other arts-related offerings.

I have a clear preference for the underdog in just about every aspect of my life — so some of own favorite posts are those that spotlight groups or events, like community college theater productions, that you might not hear much about otherwise. 

I’m also keen on social justice issues after years of undergraduate and graduate study in psychology, religion and philosophy. In both my blog and my features for the magazine, I tend to write about topics related to individual and collective struggles. Diversity and equality are favorite themes.

Readers easily surmise that there’s a “voice” behind the work — my unique view of the world shaped by my own experiences growing up and raising my own family with my husband James. But I always seek to honor the diverse voices of our readers.

Editorial and advertising are two very distinct arenas for the magazine — which is why it attracts so many top-notch journalists and writers. I never feel the pressure to write about something because there’s an ad buy at stake, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is, however, a certain marketing quality to my writing style given my many years in non-profit management, where I often wrote grant proposals, press releases and the like. And what is writing, after all, if not selling ideas?

For those eager to get media coverage in any forum, remember that bees prefer honey over vinegar. I can’t write about all the wonderful things in the Valley at once, but do my best to be comprehensive in my choices. Friendly reminders are lovely and always welcome.

I often treat topics not directly related to children or teens, largely because I’m at the stage in life where children leave the nest and adults begin to appreciate anew the value of having one’s own experiences in the community. I love a good puppet show, but sometimes an alternative theater production with friends sounds more inviting. You can enjoy grown up things and still be a perfectly wonderful parent.

Often I write about my own direct experiences with the arts — a museum I stumble on one day while one of my kids is running late at “teen taxi” time, a performance being presented by one of the schools my children attend. The joy of discovery infuses my posts with more than the mere reading of press releases.

I do regret not being able to get to more exhibits and performances in more parts of the Valley. As a real-live stage mom, I spend a good deal of time driving my youngest daughter, Lizabeth, to her own auditions, rehearsals and performances (as well as theater-related community service) — so the shows I get to enjoy seeing and reviewing are often those that just happen to fall on a night when I’m not in my car or crashed on the couch.

I love the blogging medium because it offers such immediacy. I can write about something soon after learning of it (unless I already have other topics slotted). And I can alert readers to events taking place in the very near future in ways that are more challenging for tradition print media.

Venues and organizations that send me event alerts also should send them to the magazine’s calendar editor, whose deadlines fall far earlier than mine. I work from home so we don’t have the luxury of swapping info that crosses our respective desks.

It’s also a matter of timing. Folks who just happens to e-mail me when I am looking for a guest blogger, for example, might hear back from me right away with an inquiry about whether they know a youth who can tackle the topic I’d like to see covered.

Sending good photos never hurts. All things being equal, most bloggers will go for topics they can easily enhance with photos or graphics to grab and sustain reader interest. We like to know who or what is pictured, and who took the photos.

I welcome reader suggestions about topics to consider — and am always especially delighted to learn of new or uncommon offerings. And since everything I post has a comment section at the bottom, feedback is always just a few keystrokes away.

Part of the joy of daily blogging is never quite knowing for sure what might be around the next corner. Systems are lovely, but I’m fonder still of spontaneity. My husband wondered, when I started nearly a year ago, how long I might last finding new and interesting topics to write about.

I’m certain of at least one thing — that although I’ll never explore the many riches of Arizona arts and culture, I’ll have one heck of a good time trying.

–Lynn