This program is made possible through a generous gift from Ruth and Russell Bolton
in conjunction with the Eberly College of Arts & Sciences.

Friday, March 23, 2012

PRT gods, Mountaineer Time Travel, and St. Patrick's Madness

We met the day after St. Patrick's day at 1 in the afternoon. I walked up the hill to the Honors Dorm, stepping over remnants of the night before, ready to talk about magical realism and origin tales. Little did I know, my lesson on magical realism wasn't as necessary as I thought. It seemed as if Morgantown took a step away from reality the night before. We spent the first bit of workshop talking and writing about what makes Morgantown so Morgantowny before I segued into magical realism. "It's world that's real except for when something unreal, magical, happens in it from time to time." A girl brought up how the night before a guy stood at the top of the steps by the dorm decreeing that to people "you shall not pass." I acknowledged that they might have gotten a taste of magical realism then (or at least a taste of surrealism, but that's a different lesson).

We read some Marquez, marveled at how the man can make a metaphor become real (light no longer flows like water. Light is water in two boys' apartment, deep enough to row a boat in it). We discussed folklore and origin stories, thinking about how they explain questions that we have in the real world, and then set out to write stories of our own.

One student wrote about walking down High Street suddenly to find herself face to face with the old Mountaineer Field and her mother, attending a game. Another wrote about leprechauns on Grant Street that were less than nice. Finally, another took on the origins of the PRT (was It founded by the bus gods and hate, made of "unholy metal," and "whined into existence."). At the end of the day, as the students got ready to rush off to a Quidditch tournament, we decided that you didn't have to look hard to find elements of magic in Morgantown. You just had to watch and record it.

Join us for our final Bolton on April 15 at 3:30. Honors Hall. RFL.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Glitz of Golden

The Arnoldite Boltoneers looked a little skeptical when I pulled out blank sheets of paper. Their eyebrows raised high enough to hold up the sky. Usually we write on gray lined paper ripped from a legal pad. These young writers are smart. Within seconds they were on to me. As one readied his pen, he asked, “Are we drawing today?” I nodded my head. Groans erupted from the swear-by-stick-figure people and silent smiles spread across the faces of the others. I promised them a pay-off, right before I asked them to draw an owl. Pencils hesitated, paused in the air. Laughs tittered. Someone said, “I just realized I have no idea what an owl looks like.” More laughter. When they were done, they held up their works of art. There was one stick owl, and most of the other owls looked like bats.

For the next step of the activity, I pulled a lifelike ceramic owl I scored from an estate sale out of my bag. An A-ha and some Oh’s filled the room. “Now, draw the owl,” I said. Pens moved furiously. Even the swear-by-stick-figure folks looked a little more confident. When they were done, they held up their before drawings and their after drawings. Can you guess which ones were better? (These after owls were owls down to the feathers.)

I bet you know the lesson, right? Draw from life, and your drawing will be more realistic. But this lesson crosses fields, too. Write from life, and your writing will be more realistic. When I was eight, my first novel was set in California, a state I had never been to. Now, ninety-nine percent of my writing takes place in Maui, my hometown. Can you guess which fiction is better? (Maybe time deserves a little bit of credit, too.) Our drawing activity and the “Write what you know” speech led to a discussion about details: the “not-so-good” details, cliches and rocky descriptions; the “useful” details, the must-know things that are simple but may be viewed as lackluster by some; and the “golden” details, the details that brand brains and stick with the audience long after they’re done reading.

To finish the night, at the top of the gray lined papers we are accustomed to, each of us wrote something that could be described: a trip to the emergency room, a gun after a day on the range, a blind dog, my car, and holding a grandson. I set a timer for two minutes, and we passed our papers to the right. Then, each of us had two minutes to describe what was at the top of our paper with the intention of writing a “golden” detail. When the timer beeped, we passed our papers to the right again and continued. We did this until we finally described our own thing-that-could-be-described. Of course with the timer running, there was a lot of pressure involved. I assured everyone, if they shot for “golden,” worse thing that could happen is that they would land among the stars or among “useful” details or, sometimes, among “not-so-good” details, but something is better than nothing, right? We were writing!

*This activity is based on an activity by Dave Eggers titled “Details (Golden), Character (Immortal) & Setting (Rural India).”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Let's Get Descriptive

Hi, Arnoldites! Excited to see you tonight over details, details, details.

Friday, March 16, 2012

There's a Gazebo Out Here?!?!

After a February hiatus due to... well winter I suppose, we're finally back on track in Fieldcrest and met on March 13th. But before I could even say, "Back in the saddle again," our fearless RFL decided on a change of scenery for our meeting. Beknownst to the residents, but unbeknownst to me, Fieldcrest is equipped with a one of a kind gazebo in a little fenced in yard, containing a couple of tables, chairs, and even a grill. I suddenly felt nostalgic for my undergrad dorm life: fraternity brothers standing around a grill burning through some cheap hamburgers, enjoying being outside, maybe even a game of sand volleyball... And it really came through in my sonnet. (Well, 14 line poem anyway-- we didn't worry about metric feet and rhyme schemes)

But strangely enough, Spring was not a joy to be had by all. Some dreaded the seasonal allergies more than the snow-ins, others were still recovering from Fieldcrest's novelty field trip on Monday to a local dairy farm, or maybe it was still a bit of a "hangover" from the time change over the weekend. Whatever it was, I felt a bit solitary in my joy for spring and while we had some good pseudo-sonnets, we also had some rather serious cases of "writer's block." And while I enjoyed this quality time in the beautiful outdoors nurturing young minds in the art of creative writing, I got the impression we should have had nap time before our workshop. *sniffle of sadness mixed with hay fever*

Maybe what really happened here was that we were skeptical of this beautiful weather... waiting for it to suddenly be 30 degrees again and threatening snow, followed by sunny and 65 the next day. Either way, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and I would like to be on the record telling her, "Hey, these kids have it hard enough as it is. Take it easy on them...

Let's hope Mother Nature is nicer to us all in the meantime before our next meeting on April 17th. Tune in next time: same bat-time, same bat-channel!

Putting the Wild and Wonderful back in West Virginia University

Have you ever wondered why the Life Sciences building has so many stairs?
Have you questioned why the hill behind Colson Hall seems intent on causing heart attacks?
Have you stared at the PRT and imagined it flying you back to your apartment (especially on a humid August day)?

Come to the Honors Hall Bolton Workshop this Sunday, March 18 at 3:30 pm. There, we will explore elements of origin stories as magical realism, and we will create some WVU origin stories of our own. You know you want to. A Marquez/PRT mash-up is bound to be a good time.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A vampire, a writer, and a lonely-heart walk into a bar...

I know that I've got a good character when they turn around and disobey me. Last Sunday, we Boltoneers discussed what makes a wonderful character. We decided that, as for so many things in writing, it's all about the details. We spent the workshop building characters. First, from a Facebook profile and then filling in as many details that we could think of about our character. I think it's safe to say that we found some characters that will definitely disobey us.

We found a woman who can give all of her love away but can't find anyone to love her. We discovered a vampire that lives above the Sports Page and majors in Women's Studies (she's also about a thousand years old). We happened upon a creative writing student who finally is able to rediscover her inner child. As we shared our characters around the table, we wondered what would happen if our characters met, and I think we all felt that we wouldn't mind if the characters hung around for a while.

Come to the next Bolton Workshop on March 8th, 3:30, Honors Hall RFL.