Friday, November 27, 2009

Morningside Writers Group - Time Out NY

Date: November 6, 2009 1:39 PM
Subject: question for you…Has Time Out New York ever done a roundup of writing classes in New York? Liz

For bookish inspiration

Wine fuels six-person workshops held weekly at Cobble Hill’s Freebird Workshops (Freebird Books and Goods, 123 Columbia St at Kane St, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; 718-643-8484,; $230 for eight sessions), where local authors lead discussions on any genre. As a bonus, participants are encouraged to overcome their fears of submission—each eight-week session wraps with the distribution of stamped envelopes and literary magazines addresses.

Admission requirements: Short writing sample

For gender parity

Twice a month, the Morningside Writers Group huddles around moderator Kendall Williams’s kitchen timer at the Sony Plaza Atrium (550 Madison Ave between 55th and 56th Sts;; $85 for six months, $120 for one year) so no one rambles on for too long. This crew takes the idea of balanced criticism to a new level—each group has an equal gender split. “Women and men view the world different,” says Williams. “So a workshop of all men, when there’s a female character, who’s gonna tell me if the woman’s worldview is accurate?” Similar insight for those writing about an undead vampire’s worldview is, sadly, unavailable.

Admission requirements: Ten-page writing sample and personal statement

For published proof

The courses at New York Writers Workshop (Jewish Community Center, 334 Amsterdam Ave at 76th St; 646-505-444,; $400 for ten sessions, $395 for conferences) come with no shortage of success stories; student Lauren Weisberger got the deal for The Devil Wears Prada while she was learning from instructor Charles Salzberg. Classes range from “Introduction to Writing a Graphic Novel”—don’t worry if you can’t draw!—to advanced groups for already-published scribes. Special “Perfect Pitch” conferences put book ideas in front of editors from big-name houses, but a Prada-size advance is far from guaranteed.

Admission requirements: Three-page writing sample

For thorough screening

Don’t let the name of the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y (1395 Lexington Ave at 92nd St; 212-415-5500,; $385–$610 for eight sessions) scare you; there are courses in fiction, nonfiction, and playwriting, as well as poetry (plus the occasional master class). Acceptance is the first hurdle; a $10 fee will get your manuscript read by the program teachers, who’ll then battle it out over who gets your genius. Open-enrollment courses are available to all paying word junkies.

Admission requirements: Writing sample up to fifteen pages

For ladder climbing

Like making baseball’s major leagues or winning a reality show, getting published is all about wanting it badly enough. At least that’s the attitude of The Writers Studio (272 W 10th St between Greenwich and Washington Sts; 212-255-7075,; $370–$455 for ten sessions) founder and Pulitzer Prize winner Phillip Schultz; the school’s fiction and poetry classes are about giving tools to writers that are already passionate. Students move up a five-level system like karate kids earning belts, and Schultz himself teaches the Level V master classes.

Admission requirements: None, but new students can enter only at Level I or II.

Article originally published on November 26th.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dynamic Voices - Accent Reduction

What does it feel like not to be understood at a job interview, in class, or in social setting? Does it crush your confidence? Does it make you shy?

How do you think it would feel when you've learned to reduce your accent and increase your confidence?

Native English speaker available in Manhattan offers short and long term customized lessons (contract required) for non-native and native English speakers in Accent Reduction and Accent Elimination.

Learn the dynamic and interactive techniques to reduce your accent, speak with vocal clarity, so that you will be understood at school or work.

Learn how to master job interview skills that will increase your chances of getting a promotion at work or a new job.

Contact Dynamic Voices for additional information, rates, and to book an audit session

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Novel Writing Basics

How does a novel begin? After I’ve decided my novel premise, I invite a cast of characters onto the stage and watch them interact with each other. Careful observation and close listening reveals the hook. The protagonist has a goal, and over the course of the novel, the antagonist tries to counterattack. In the early stages of the novel, an outline is essential to keep track of who’s doing what to whom, when, and why. Have I created a strong protagonist with risks and stakes, and one that I’d want to spend at least one year of my life getting to know? Writing a novel is akin to training and running a marathon. Short story writing is closer to speed walking or sprinting.

What must my novel contain to keep readers interested? I use a novel notebook with yellow tabbed dividers to store pictures from magazines, newspapers, and research. I keep it nearby or certain sections whenever I’m writing first or second drafts. Novel writing is methodical, but if the writing is sloppy, readers might walk away from the finished product.
I pace myself as I write so that I don’t suffer burnout or become discouraged.

Imagine a circus ringleader who has to keep an audience engaged while keeping watch on two adjacent rings. An aspiring novelist volunteers at the onset of the creative work for this unpaid job that’s not without its own danger. A book that has weak action, events that unfold too fast or too slow, and no drama or tension is a disaster. Novelists have to juggle characters, setting, dialogue, and point of view without revealing heavy-handed techniques or imitative styles.

Why is novel writing lonely? Writing is a solitary occupation, but it needn’t be isolated. I believe that writing workshops are essential for every aspiring and established scribe’s sanity. Ideas don’t happen in a vacuum, and neither does writing and revision. I need a committed, intelligent, and focused community to keep me in check over the months and perhaps years it takes to write a novel. All writing groups aren’t created equal. The group I founded uses the CORE Method™: Constructive, Organized, and Realistic Evaluation. Setting out to accomplish the herculean task of writing a novel is exciting, painful, and frightening without expecting harsh feedback.

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a writing workshop or trusted first readers to help shape a publishable novel. Artists need a nurturing environment during the latter stages of a work’s evolution. It is in the workshop that writers are accountable to each other with word counts, but it is best not to submit until both the author and pages are ready for constructive feedback and public viewing.

If the creative work is well received and becomes a bestseller, kudos to the writer. Few writers’ first thoughts are that they’re writing a bestseller. I believe we all set out to create three-dimensional characters in vivid worlds both familiar and foreign with identifiable traits, reasonable goals, and a payoff at novel’s end. Invisible contracts exist between authors and potential readers. Tell me story, but not just any story. I want it to keep me awake at night, help me forget my troubles, educate, and leave me wanting more. Each writer has the unenviable task of creating magic on the page.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Savory Writing: Character and Plot

The first step in creating memorable stories, essays, and screenplays is my idea journal where I write the title, initial character names, brief biographical sketches, character wants, story premise, and possible resolutions.

I make the connection between writing and cooking because of my love of Southern home-cooked meals, observing my granny make coffee in her old-fashioned stovetop percolator, skillet spoon bread, and after church Sunday family dinners at granny’s house.

Each of these scenarios is similar to writing in that my granny, mother, and various family members began with an idea. They might have planned it out mentally or jotted down their shopping list before going to the grocery store.

Plot/Cause and Effect. Writers must double-check that their story makes sense, and that all the scenes move forward. Similar to cooking, the circumstances (ingredients) must change between the beginning and the end of each scene or chapter. The story or chapter is likely to hold reader interest if all of the ingredients and seasonings are balanced.

All meals aren’t created equal. Each time we prepare a meal, we seek to experiment which leads to improvement. Each time I sit down to write or stand at the kitchen countertop to prepare a meal, I add something new to push both to the next level.

How do we define plot? A plot is a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. “The king died and then the queen died” is a story. “The king died and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. If it is a plot, we ask “why?”

With this in mind, we return to preparing our story. My protagonist finds a recipe for his granny or aunt’s Southern Surprise Chicken Soup, and sets off to the grocery store to buy the listed ingredients. This is a good start, but I need to expand the idea so that it’s interesting and would hold a reader’s attention over the course of a short story. My male protagonist, with index card in hand, sets out for the grocery store, and then along the way he encounters an unforeseen obstacle that will test him. In order to hold my readers’ interest, this surprise obstacle must be realistic and not plotted for the sake of advancing the story. The king in our plot example died, and because the queen was grief-stricken, she followed him into the afterlife.

How can writers apply this example to their own writing? Readers read to escape. Readers read to learn. Readers read to find parallels in their lives to what’s written on the page or hand-held device. What started as a simple story of making soup takes on new meaning when we introduce conflict and raise the stakes. On the way to the store, our protagonist’s journey is temporarily interrupted, and he has to make a choice. Does he get involved with the unexpected source of conflict and possible character growth, or continue along his path?

Let’s return to our soup preparation in our fully stocked and modern kitchen. As we're preparing our soup with the listed ingredients, we realize that something is missing – a spice, perhaps, and we must improvise. Our hero, too, must improvise. If he ignores the source of conflict, he’s forever changed. If he participates, alters, and/or counterattacks, he’s changed also. Action and inaction originate from a character’s personality. Getting involved with this conflict is a decision that he must deal with, and conversely, walking away is decision that might forever haunt him. This is where we see the character and ourselves in action. Readers learn more about the character, and we see what we’re able to do in the kitchen, against the clock, as our dinner guests are en route to the potluck dinner. Is the character resourceful, pessimistic, or on the brink of tears?

At this point in our story and soup, ingredients and story elements are heating up. We see the vapor rising, the aroma fills the kitchen and the surrounding rooms. We adjust the fire, stir in additional vegetables, and look over at the cutting board once we realize that we’ve not added the chopped parsley and cilantro. We toss a handful inside our soup pot and stir.

Our protagonist, if he’s three-dimensional and realistic, can’t foresee the obstacle. He must adapt as it unfolds. It must appear natural and effortless for the reader. Writers must play fair with readers, or they’ll walk away from a story. The hook, or story promise, is why readers choose a certain story over another.

If we’ve promised Southern Surprise Chicken Soup, the surprise shouldn’t be that it’s beef or tofu. It’s an implied contract with our dinner guests, and we will be held accountable.

Midway through our story and soup preparation, we keep an eye out for errant insects, attention-seeking family members, and red herrings. There will always be someone or something competing for our attention in the kitchen, while we’re writing, or reading a story. With a careful symphony of ingredients, story elements, and revision, we are on our way to creating a robust soup that will leave our guests hungry for seconds and a story that keep readers engaged.

Our end goal is to have created a savory soup and memorable story. We dash about the kitchen looking for last minute accents and flavor boosts. We set up the table and flatware. We ask ourselves if candles would be over the top for our simple potluck dinner with high school and college friends.

Writers, too, must stand back and examine the setting, plot, characters, tone, and voice of the creative work. Are all the necessary people, places, and events on stage and the page?

How does the final product smell and taste? Is it a beautiful bouquet or something we must add salt or pepper to after the fact? At story’s end, is there a reward for our readers? Will readers be satisfied or left with more questions than when they began? Did we accomplish our story goal? If not, there’s always next time to improve our writing.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Seeking On-Call/Barter Vendors

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We're seeking stylists, make-up artists, photographers, videographers, fashion designers, accessory designers, event planners, wedding planners, club/event promoters, deejays, personal trainers, nutritionists, healthcare/skincare companies, entertainment/media bloggers/reviewers, and virtual assistants.

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This is not an offer of employment. Thanks in advance for your interest!