Monday, September 28, 2015

A Community of Writers

Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.
                                                           Jessamyn West  

Alone? Uninterrupted?  Certainly. But that does not mean writing is entirely a solitary occupation. Nor does it mean that family, friends and society are natural enemies of a writer. In fact, Seven Bridge believes that community is essential to the writer.

Weekly creative writing groups offer opportunities to connect with other writers and offer encouragement.  Monthly critique groups enable writers to honestly evaluate work and improve craft.  Workshops provide education, insight and hands-on practice. Author readings introduce writers discussing their creative work and their experience. Open mics give writers a chance to share and offer encouragement.

A writer’s community benefits both the individual and the group, providing feedback, encouragement, a sense of accomplishment, and even the time to write. Knowledge is shared, experienced gained, new techniques explored.  Writing is solitary work, but community feeds the writer - supporting, motivating and validating them in their work.

So, go ahead, be alone, uninterrupted and slightly savage when facing the blank page. But before, after, and in between, seek community and see how much better those solitary writing times can be.

Paula Castner is a mother of three and a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative as well as a freelance writer, writing and baking workshop facilitator, and drama director. She receives emails at

Friday, September 25, 2015

Bridging Writers - Upcoming Special Event

For more information on this event, please visit our Bridging Writers Series page or contact us

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Doing the Hard Work of a Novel

I have just started a 10-week course on novel writing at the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative.

Unlike the rest of our offerings, which are free, this session costs $200, so I'm taking it seriously, determined to make the most of my time and investment. I want to improve my novel, to make it the best it can be before sending it out to agents.

Frankly, it's intimidating to do this again, because I've spent a considerable number of hours both editing and cutting the novel, "Emilee's Song," and submitting to a agents, who were generally positive. But here I am again, reworking it. In a way, I'm tired of fooling around with it, but I refuse to quit on what I know is a damn good read. It needs a few tweaks, and that's where I'm heading.

Already, Rich Marcello, the workshop presenter, has told me the writing is beautiful (alright!!!), but I seem to have too many points of view in motion. He's suggested that I consider paring them down.

Oh agony, that I should silence a voice!

But I know, intuitively, that he has a good point. POV is my trouble spot. Too many head-popping viewpoints tend to slap the narration around, confusing the reader. They can interfere with flow, disrupt focus, even mislead readers into thinking a secondary character is a primary character.

I have already silenced one of my favorites, an old crow named Mrs. Webb, relegating her to secondary status even though I had written (and have now deleted) a wonderful scene in which she confronts herself in a mirror and despairs of her aging body and others' perceptions. I did this before anyone suggested it, because I knew that I was venturing into a too-personal take on a minor character, whose main function is to amuse. She suffices as a busybody with a lot of relatable (and despicable) qualities.

So I am examining my writer's conscience, as suggested. Are there other characters that can be fully represented but not given a direct voice (POV) in the novel? Should they be treated that way?

I think the truth—hard as it will be to rewrite scenes—is yes. It may hurt, and intimidate to look critically at your writing, but you have to be open to suggestion and critique if you want to make your work as good as it can be. I realized something in trying to summarize my story for Rich; it felt disorganized, confusing. I had my own little literary epiphany right then.

There is a way to do this without silencing secondary characters; I'm already hot on the trail of new scenes, meant to remove a character from first-person reflection and relate their thoughts and reactions through conversations.

I am fully aware of the danger, and—at this point in my writing career—in control of the risks. I believe I can do this without hurting my story. I will still fight to retain what I believe in, and can truly justify, but I'll do the work on the other stuff—the things that are B+ work, when they could be A's.

We'll see how that goes.

(Some suggested reading, if you're doing this at home: "The Power of Point of View," Alicia Rasley; "The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing," Leder & Heffron; "Your First 50 Pages," Jeff Gerke; "How to Write a Damn Good Novel," James Frey; "Your First Novel," (chapters 1-9), Rittenberg and Whitcomb; "The Making of a Story," Alice LaPlante.)

Ann Connery Frantz spent years in newspaper journalism before switching to freelance writing and editing. Her short story, "Samaritan," won the 2010 Dr. Neila C. Seshachari Award for Fiction. She writes about book clubs and authors for the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Upcoming Deadline

Wednesdays, September 16 – November 18, 2015
6:00 – 9:00 p.m.
The Parlor, The First Church of Christ, Unitarian
725 Main Street, Lancaster, Massachusetts
Course Fee: $200.00

Each three-hour class will be divided into two sections. In the first section, we’ll explore different aspects of the craft of fiction as detailed below. In the second section, we’ll focus on scenes written by the students, and provide positive, constructive feedback on how each author might further develop his or her work.

                                    Week One:    The Anatomy of a Scene
                                    Week Two:   The Fictive Dream
                                    Week Three: Point of View, Voice, and Time
                                    Week Four:   Plot, Tension, and Raising the Stakes
                                    Week Five:   Characters
                                    Week Six:     The First and Last Chapter
                                    Week Seven: Dialogue Versus Narrative Summary
                                    Week Eight:  How to Build a World
                                    Week Nine:   Common Issues 
                                    Week Ten:    Putting It All Together

Prerequisites: Some level of previous experience writing fiction, either through class work or seminars or self-study. Each student must submit a sample of his or her writing, preferably a scene between six and ten double-spaced pages, as part of the application process for this class.

Rich Marcello is the author of three critically acclaimed novels.  The first, The Color of Home, was published in 2013 by Langdon Street Press, and melds together honest generative dialogue, poetic sensory detail, and “unforgettable characters who seem to know the complete song catalog of Lennon or Cohen.”  The second, The Big Wide Calm, was published in 2014 also by Langdon Street Press. The US Review of Books stated, “Marcello’s novel has a lot going for it. Well-written, thought-provoking, and filled with flawed characters, it meets all of the basic requirements of best-of-show in the literary fiction category.” The third, The Beauty of the Fall, will be published in 2016. Faulkner Award Winner Mark Spencer commented, “Few novels are as intelligent and relevant as The Beauty of the Fall. Almost none is as eloquent, compelling, heartbreaking, and ultimately, uplifting.”

Please submit an application  (found here) with writing sample and course fee (check only please) to: Paula Castner, 55 Fire Road 10, Lancaster, MA, 01523, no later than September 9, 2015.  Class size will be limited.

All Welcome!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Books are Ambassadors

Two events this week prompted me to think about what I read. The first was my husband coming home with a brochure titled, “An Inclusive and Diverse Summer Reading List.”  Compiled by librarians, authors, and children’s literature scholars, the list suggests picture books, middle grade books,  and young adults novels that celebrate diversity.  It incudes, for example,  Hana Hashimoto’s picture book, Sixth Violin, about a young girl who decides to study piano after listening to her grandfather’s music during a visit to Japan; Rita Williams Garcia’s middle grade story, One Crazy Summer, about three black sisters in 1968 learning about cultural and ethnic identity; and Aisha Saeed’s young adult novel, Written in the Stars, about an American born Pakistani teenager whose parents take her to Pakistan to arrange her marriage.

The second event was a conversation in a writing group about reading, after one of the participants wrote about a character being influenced by a variety of authors and the books.

The two events together got me thinking about reading ruts.  We read a particular genre like mysteries or historical fiction or fantasy.  We read just nonfiction or only fiction.  We read books by certain authors whom we “know.”  On the one hand, nothing is wrong with reading good books of a particular genre or style, or by a particular author. On the other hand, given the vast reading material available to us, what do we miss by sticking to the known, the familiar?

I confess that I rarely read nonfiction. With three children, three jobs, and participating in numerous volunteer groups, my time to read is short and precious, so I gravitate toward fiction as a way of escaping from my crazy life.  While I believe there is great value in nonfiction reading, I find that nonfiction articles and books give me more to think about, when honestly I am just too tired for more thinking.

This week, though, prompted by the above musings, I read a nonfiction book recently recommended to me – Andy Crouch’s Culture Making. Yes, the book made me think, and yes, it was not the escapist fiction I usually crave, but I discovered, to my pleasure and surprise, that I really enjoyed the book and learned something as well. And I was reminded, again, that we live in a world of multiple cultures and our books and our reading should reflect that.  Books are ambassadors as well as teachers. 

And when you’re just too tired, they’re a great escape as well.

Paula Castner is a mother of three and a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative, as well as a freelance writer, writing and baking workshop facilitator, and drama director. She receives emails at