“Write what you know” is the cliché given to beginner writers, but how do we actually start to access the messy raw material of our lives, and then shape our experiences into compelling short stories? A story doesn’t feel real, convincing, and resonant simply because it’s true, so how can we use the techniques of fiction to help us convey a sense of emotional reality on the page?
In this generative six-week workshop, we will experiment with the techniques needed to transform life into fiction. We will find our guides in each other, as well as in writers such as Claire Vaye Watkins, Delmore Schwartz, Ocean Vuong, Vi Khi Nao, Mavis Gallant, and Jayne Anne Philips, as we consider the potential of a writer’s imagination to both distort and enliven the representation of real memories to powerful effect.
Though our focus will be on producing short stories, we will look to poets including Natalie Diaz, George Ella Lyon and Joe Brainard to illustrate how a writer might use language and imagery to develop a personal mythology. We will also read Lucia Berlin’s short fiction alongside excerpts from her memoir and discuss how the two forms tackle the same material.
Students will have the opportunity to workshop two short stories, both of which will receive detailed written peer and instructor feedback. In one private one-on-one conference, we will meet to discuss your stories in more detail, including ways to move forward in revisions, methods for developing a sustainable writing practice, and the process of submitting to literary magazines when your piece is publication-ready.
This course is open to all: from new writers who are sure they have a story to tell but are unsure where to begin, to seasoned writers of any genre who are interested in introducing an autobiographical element to their fiction. Prior workshop experience is not necessary, but all members of the class must come to class prepared to discuss the readings, be willing to share their own writing, and be generous in their responses to their peers’ work.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the Zoom desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- The opportunity to workshop two short stories and receive feedback from the instructor and peers
- A one-on-one conference with the instructor to discuss your writing process and ways to continue to polish your work in revision
- A tool-kit of writing prompts and exercises to help you generate fictional work from memory and lived experience
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Class time will be divided between three main components: workshopping each other’s stories, discussing assigned readings, and generative writing exercises targeted at finding a way in. Students will be expected to read one to two assigned short stories per week, in addition to workshop submissions.
Week One: The Story is the Thing
Week Two: Origin Stories/Workshop #1
Week Three: Unsent Letters/Workshop #2
Week Four: Sacred Carnality/Workshop #3
Week Five: Myth-Making, Personal & Political Histories/Workshop #4
Week Six: Childhood & Other Ghost Stories/Workshop #5
Madelaine Lucas is a senior editor at the literary annual NOON. Her short story "Ruins" was awarded the Elizabeth Jolley prize in 2018, and her non-fiction writing has appeared in Paris Review Daily, The Believer, Literary Hub, Catapult and The Lifted Brow. A graduate of the fiction MFA program at Columbia University, she has taught workshops in the Columbia University Undergraduate Writing Program and Summer High School Program.
"Sensual, tactile and full of quiet fire, “Ruins” is a story bold and assured enough to take the questions that lurk in literature’s heart—questions of love, desire and choice—and ask them outright... Richly anchored in place, and alive to Australian history, this story speaks strongly to how women learn to inhabit themselves and the world. Timely and gorgeously evocative."
"”Dog Story” by Madelaine Lucas is a deceptively simple and beautifully rendered treatment of a relationship breakdown. While the dog left over from a broken relationship may be a fairly common trope, here the animal in question is given a full life, his emotional status subtly raised. At a sentence by sentence level, “Dog Story” is filled with vivid imagery—particularly the haunting final scene—and the voice stands out for its intimacy, maturity, and clarity."
"I first met Madelaine Lucas at Columbia University’s MFA program when she was in my Anti-Heroines seminar as well as a fiction workshop. There, I witnessed her astute, generous, careful feedback as well as her rigorous attention to craft and expansive knowledge of contemporary and classic literature. Since that time, she has gone on to be an editor at NOON, where her discerning eye has and editorial grace has allowed her to discover important new voices and work alongside esteemed avant-garde authors Lydia Davis, Christine Schutt and Diane Williams. Madelaine’s award-winning stories are quietly devastating, lyrical and daring. I’ve found her to be one of my most trusted readers—she gives every sentence and every word her full attention, and is remarkably encouraging, honest, and insightful. But what makes her such an extraordinary author, reader and teacher is her ability to not only respond to the technical issues of the work, but more importantly, the emotional undertow—the beating heart, the whispered secrets—and to clearly see the promise and purpose of every author’s story. "
"Madeleine was a wonderful teacher, and I had such an incredible experience!"
"When I started this class I always said I would never go back to school again and hated the classroom environment. Madelaine made me fall in love with learning again in this setting! She did such a great job and every class was so engaging."
"This was such a powerfully positive writing experience. This was not only due to the eager energy of my class but of Madelaine being such a wonderful instructor. She gives such wonderful, detailed feedback and you could tell how much she cared about the class and our stories. It really motivated us all to give as much as we could to the class."