Liese Mayer, interviewed by Stefan Merrill Block


Like a lot of the writers I work with, I often have trouble finding the finish line. At what point is a manuscript ready to submit to publishers? Do you expect, when agents send a manuscript for you to consider, that every word will be perfectly in place, every comma polished to a shine? Or do you prefer a manuscript that leaves more room for your own suggestions?


If everything came to me perfectly formed, I’d be out of a job. That said, when looking at a manuscript, I read just like any other reader would. There isn’t a great science to it. And it’s true that sloppiness in the writing or storytelling can turn me away. But sloppiness is different than messiness. I actually like books that might seem just a bit messy, as if the writer has too much to say for it to fit into all neat shapes. I love all kinds of books—both literary and commercial—but for me to want to buy something it has to grab me and not let go. My advice to writers would be to fix every problem you can figure out how to fix, and then take the plunge and share it. READ MORE

Terese Svoboda, interviewed by Tracy Young


Does teaching make you more sensitive to glitches in your own writing?


I try not to be too hard on myself during the first few drafts. If I don't get everything right, it just means I have more work to do and that's exciting. Hopefully I transfer that excitement to students.


What can students learn from each other?


Fortunately writing problems are often similar. Each of course has its own taxonomy, but generally it boils down to Is this clear? and Is this believable? The first is informational, the ability to pay out details to create a world, the second is voice, how those details add up to truth. A reader other than the writer can most easily pick up on where confusions lie but every review of every piece of work yields answers to those problems that, if a student is listening, can be applied to his own writing.


What kind of piece do you bring to a workshop, ideally? At what stage?


When you're stuck, as when you should see a shrink. Stuck can also mean you're finished. If you're trying something entirely new, a pat on the back can also be helpful....READ MORE


Notes on Dialogue
by Tracy O'Neill


At a certain point in their careers, most fiction writers, in their critiques of dialogue, cease to complain, “But no one would really say that!” Perhaps their credulity has finally been stretched by the weird mechanics of real world relationships. Perhaps they’ve reached the reasonable conclusion that they’ll never know everyone. Even more likely is that they’ve learned how to register this idea with a more workshop-acceptable adjective: wooden.

“You have a technique for discovering more about what is real,” Martin Lynch-Gibbon says in Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head.

“So have you,” Alexander tells him. “It is called morality.” A partially-formed human head, handmade halfway, sits on a nearby table, reminding Martin of making monsters.




Advice from Crime Fiction Authors


It has been such a pleasure and privilege to host some of the most beloved crime fiction writers for a master class as part of our Crime Fiction Academy here at The Center. Learn how to distinguish fact from fiction with Dennis Lehane, how to immerse your reader with Joyce Carol Oates, and watch other crime fiction greats like Ruth Rendell, Michael Connelly, and Mary Higgins Clark offer their best crime writing advice. 


Joyce Carol Oates: On Immersing the Reader in the Crime

"Non-fiction crime writing usually begins after the crime is solved, and there is a little distance there. But the kind of writing that I would like to do is eye-level, where you're actually in the consciousness of one of the characters to whom the event is happening. Therefore, you don't know more than the character knows...." watch now


Research Your Life 

by Alexander Chee


One of the most important exercises Annie Dillard had us do when I was her student in literary nonfiction as an undergrad was to research your own life.

You want to write about your life, she said, approximately. How much do you know about your life? Do you know the major industries of your hometown? When was the town settled? Do you know the seasons, the flora and fauna, the population size, the climate… on and on she went, rattling off points for us to check. And off we went, to research our hometowns.... 



Tumbling Down a Hill in a House That is On Fire

by Duane Swierczynski


The best bit of that advice, and one I would take to heart as a novelist, is the idea of keeping your readers off kilter whenever possible. If they know what’s coming, there’s a good chance they’ll put down your book and move on to something else.


So how to keep your readers off kilter?


My own method, it seems, is all about keeping myself off-kilter during the plotting process.


With my first crime novel, The Wheelman, I winged it completely. Opened with a bank robbery gone wrong and just followed the aftermath. I had a vague idea about where it go, but when I sat down to write each section, I allowed the story to be the boss. It was great fun because I was discovering the story as I went along. New characters would pop up and I’d be like, Oh, okay, you want to join in? Sure. So what’s your story? The answer would often surprise me.


With the follow-up, The Blonde, I did the opposite: I plotted out every minute of that sucker. It takes place over a single weekend, and I was juggling multiple viewpoint and plot threads, so I had to know what was happening at every turn....




What a Nude Drawing Class Taught Me About POV in Fiction

by Patricia Park


From where I sat I could see the model’s arm was hooked behind him, but it was only when I rose from my seat and walked around him that I realized his hand was resting flat in the small of his back, which explained the torquing of the forearm. I saw other things, too. The tension in his hamstrings corresponding to the sinews running down his quads. I saw the folds of skin between his shoulder blades—which explained his puffed-out chest. Everything happening behind the scenes was informing what I had viewed from that first angle. From where I had been sitting, I realized I’d been seeing only half the picture....READ MORE



Need a place to write?


Don't want to spend a fortune for your literary sanctuary? Our writing studio is located in a beautiful, sky-lit space on our top floor. It provides the perfect setting for writing. We even provide M&Ms!  Read more


Writers' Studio News


Our Writers' Studio members have been busy upstairs, and we want to share some of their successes with you. Click here to find out about recently published works and awards.