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Writer's Workshop in a Book: The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction Paperback – June 7, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This collection from the Squaw Valley writing workshop, one of the oldest in the U.S., boasts an impressive list of alumni among its contributors, including Amy Tan, Michael Chabon, Richard Ford, Anne Lamott and Mark Childress. Rather than exercises and suggestions, however, this "workshop" is populated with literate, thoughtful essays on different aspects of crafting fiction. Ford's foreward begins with some blunt advice: one "should treat the decision to write like a decision to get married: try to talk yourself out of it if you can." Standouts include James D. Houston's essay on the role of setting, which shapes not just "grounding and location," but "the dreams you dream... your view of history, sometimes your sense of self." Janet Fitch advises a deep plunge into sensual details: "Take a bite of a tangerine... and try to work your way into the place it came from, to a time and a place and a season." A new or struggling writer will get the most out of Lamott's "The Clinic," in which she advises, "write what you want to come upon," what makes "something inside of you... go 'oooh.' " Aside from a few clunkers-Robert Stone's hodge-podge of flourishes among them--writers will find much of these new and previously published essays worthwhile and motivating, perhaps none more so than Tan's essay on "Angst and the Second Book," which first appeared in the pages of PW.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books (June 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811858219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811858212
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,116,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


"The Voice of Books on National Public Radio"--that's how novelist, essayist and story writer Alan Cheuse has been described. For over twenty-five years, Cheuse has been "reading for America" every week on NPR, and he's also been writing a number of books of his own, and teaching the art of narrative and literature at George Mason University for over twenty years.
He is the author of the novels The Bohemians, The Grandmothers' Club and The Light Possessed. His latest novel, To Catch the Lightning (winner of the 2009 Grub Street Prize for Fiction), follows the career of turn of the century photographer Edward S. Curtis and his quest to photograph the western tribes of North America. He is also the author of several collections of short fiction and a pair of novellas published under the title The Fires. He is the co-editor with Nicholas Delbanco of Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Art, and co-author with Delbanco of Literature: Craft & Voice, a major newly published introduction to college literary study, and also the co-editor of Writers Workshop in a Book: The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction, and editor of Listening to Ourselves: Great American Short Fiction.
Cheuse's essays, short stories, and reviews have appeared in numerous places, such as The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, World Literature Today, The Antioch Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and other venues. His essay collection, Listening to the Page, appeared in 2001. His collected travel essays came out in June 2009 under the title A Trance After Breakfast.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Howard Goldowsky on July 14, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a collection of essays about writing, going back about 15 to 20 years. All of the essays are written by current or former Squaw Valley Workshop teachers or former students. The introduction is by Richard Ford, himself a former student. Given the venerable reputation of the essayists, I expected down-to-earth pragmatic advice on how to achieve better fiction; what I got, instead, with essay titles like "A Note to an Unpublished Writer" and "Fear of Finishing," was something that read like a self-help manual for writers.

There was one exception. Janet Fitch's essay, "Coming to Your Senses" was an outrageously practical essay on how to use unique verbs to describe ordinary perceptions. For example, Fitch writes: "A girl has moist skin, a literal description. If we like her, we can describe it as dewy, slick, glossy. If we don't, it's greasy, sweaty, oily." Fitch's essay is packed with practical technique like this.

The other essays, unfortunately, were more general in nature. A few talked about scene, plot, point of view, but often in generalities and using arcane examples.

Some of the essays were transcribed from actual talks. They read well, but it seems like you had to be there to get the overall effect.

I recommend Curious Attractions: Essays on Fiction Writing and Stephen King's On Writing for a more practical approach to learning fiction.

All in all, not a bad book, but I was hoping for something more pragmatic.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Olivas on July 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
Though scores of summer writing conferences have been established throughout the last several decades, one of the oldest and most respected is the Squaw Valley Community of Writers in Northern California. Founded in 1969 by novelists Blair Fuller and Oakley Hall, the Community has sponsored workshops in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, and nature writing. For almost forty years, published authors have dispensed hard-earned knowledge about the craft to conference attendees who harbor the dream of someday seeing their names emblazoned across the covers of bestselling novels or story collections.

For the first time, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers shares the wisdom of some of its contemporary staff members. Edited by Lisa Alvarez and Alan Cheuse with an introduction from Richard Ford, Writers Workshop in a Book (Chronicle Books) includes essays on many aspects of fiction writing from eighteen well-published authors. Regardless of whether reading this book will inspire a beginning writer to commence or finish a full-length manuscript, it is a fine and truly entertaining addition to the ever-growing bookshelf of "how to" tomes.

In the first essay, "How to Write a Novel," Diane Johnson informs us that "most people in their lives think at one time or another of writing" a novel. Indeed, she read somewhere that "90 percent of college-educated women, at one stage or another of their lives, actually begin one." Of course, very few actually get around to writing a novel because there are many obstacles including the fact that "it's an awful lot of work." But if you are willing to put in the time, Johnson offers very practical threshold decisions you must make before moving forward: "First you have to plan it. What will happen in it? Who will tell it?
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I have only just started this book as it was a recommendation by a published author. Thus far, I am finding good information and direction.
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