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The Writer's Notebook

Craft Essays from Tin House

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The Writer's Notebook

© Tin House

Tin House Books, May 2009

Every summer for the past six years, Tin House has conducted summer workshops at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Writers come from around the country to lead seminars, panels, and readings on various aspects of the craft of writing. The Writer's Notebook is the culmination of these past six years of workshops, featuring essays from a prominent list of contemporary authors that includes Jim Shepard, Aimee Bender, Steve Almond, D. A. Powell, and Chris Offutt.

The essays within The Writer's Notebook each offer a fresh perspective on various aspects of the writing craft. Dorothy Allison's thoghtful essay on place is abutted with Steve Almond's "Hard up for a Hard-On," in which the journalist/novelist weighs good and bad examples of sex scene writing. Kate Bernheimer enumerates the four key elements of the fairy tale, and Aimee Bender exhorts writers to leave some mystery in the motivation of their characters, a point she illustrates with an enigmatic Richard Brautigan story about an old woman, a pound of liver, and bees.
Not every essay is for everybody. I found myself drifting off while reading Susan Bell's dissection of the editing of F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, while Mark Sarvas was so taken with it that he is serializing the essay on his blog, The Elegant Variation. On the other hand, I found riveting Lucy Corin's essay on the relationship between content and form, in which she breaks down the notion that "one part of what we produce is our stuff and the othe is a suitcase we bought to put the stuff in."

The Writer's Notebook features an eclectic list of top shelf contributons each bound together by a pragmatic approach to teaching the craft of writing - seventeen instructional essays in all and a bonus CD with recordings of two panel discussions on character creation and the use of fiction in nonfiction (and vice versa). If you can't actually attend the workshops, this is probably your next best bet.
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