Online | Fiction | Workshop

8-Week Online Advanced Fiction Workshop: The Real & the Unreal

A man wakes up as a giant bug. A woman marries an ogre. A strange visitor confesses that he burns barns, furnishing no further explanation. A woman heads into the Land of the Dead to find her missing sister. A nose earns a promotion, landing a great government job. Americans outsource their difficult emotions to a dingy office in Bangalore, where workers feel the pain of dentist appointments, breakups, and funerals.

In fiction, anything can happen, including these seemingly ‘unreal’ events. When we write fiction, how much should the material world constrain us? When does hewing to the world we live in every day—a world concerned with relationships, money, death, race, disappointment, and joy—help us create richer fiction? When does departing from the strict rules of this world—adding vampires, zombies, ghosts, magical moon cycles, and metamorphoses; subtracting death, gender, even time—make for a more real literary experience?

Each week, students will complete an exercise to practice reading for craft and carefully review two workshop submissions from peers. Craft lectures and exercises will be completed outside of class time; each class meeting will be devoted entirely to workshop. Every student will be workshopped twice. This class is ideal for writers who have taken a workshop before. Writers need not feel locked into writing primarily realism, science fiction, fantasy, or magical realism, and should feel free to use the course to experiment in genre.

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 desktop client so you have access to all platform features.


- Understand the key craft tools underlying any piece of fiction, but especially speculative fiction

- Have two pieces of short fiction/one novel excerpt verbally workshopped by the instructor and students, and receive written feedback on those pieces

- Get peer and instructor feedback on two pieces of short fiction or novel excerpts

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


- Each week students should read the one to two published short stories posted on the class portal and contribute to a conversation on the class portal outside of class time about the readings. Instructor will post a mini-lecture on each week's reading to work in tandem.

- Each week students will also read two peers' pieces twice, writing feedback letters drawing on craft vocabulary and marking up classmates' manuscripts.

- Students will turn in pieces for workshop twice. Workshop pieces can be short stories or novel openings (no middle chapters, please). Submissions should be no longer than 25 pages double spaced in Times New Roman, 12 pt font. We will hit the ground running with workshops, with two students submitting work a week before class starts. For this reason, this class is best for writers with experience in creative writing workshops.

- Each week the instructor will post an optional writing prompt to the class portal.


Week 1: Introduction & workshop 1; Readings and lectures on speculative conceits & defamiliarization

Week 2: Workshop 2; Readings and lectures focused on the mysteries of character, from magical thinking to revelations

Week 3: Workshop 3; Readings and lectures focused on plot as escalation; plot as character in action

Week 4: Workshop 4; Readings and lectures about world building

Week 5: Workshop 5; Readings and lectures about horror

Week 6: Workshop 6; Readings and lectures about voice & form

Week 7: Workshop 7; Readings and lectures on novel openings, breaking vs. building the world

Week 8: Workshop 8; Readings and lectures on novel openings part 2

Sanjena Sathian

Sanjena Sathian's debut novel, GOLD DIGGERS, is forthcoming from Penguin Press. She is a 2019 graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was supported by the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Her award-winning short fiction has been published or is forthcoming in ConjunctionsBoulevard, Joyland, Salt Hill, and the Master’s Review. She has also worked as a reporter in Mumbai and San Francisco, with nonfiction bylines for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Food & Wine, and more.  


“Sathian’s satire is pitch perfect . . . savagely funny. The comedic grotesque register gives way, at times, to an authentic and heartrending melancholia . . . [M]agnificent—canny and moving and just plain fun . . . Sathian’s movement toward fantasy in the story’s second half is a wise, satisfying turn. Her prose lifts off: there’s a delight she takes in writing humorously about magic that shows off the scope of her immense talent . . . [a] firm critique of secondhand striving and cutthroat ambition.”


“This novel deftly weaves together magic and history to produce a compelling coming-of-age story.”


“GOLD DIGGERS is a delightful concoction of the best of South Asia’s literary offerings, reminiscent of Hanif Kureishi’s irreverent humour in The Buddha of Suburbia and, more recently, the magic realism of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and Salman Rushdie’s work. . . . Sathian brings a golden touch to the 21st-century Indian American novel—stretching it through a reimagining of history and mythology, yet holding it close to her chest.”


“In a perfect alchemical blend of familiar and un-, GOLD DIGGERS takes a wincingly hilarious coming-of-age story, laces it with magical realism and a trace of satire, and creates a world that’s both achingly familiar and marvelously inventive. Written with such assurance it’s hard to believe it’s Sanjena Sathian’s debut, this is a dizzyingly original, fiercely funny, deeply wise novel about the seductive powers—and dangers—of borrowed ambition.”


“GOLD DIGGERS is so many things—truly funny, insightful, smart, and filled with wonderful characters. I loved reading this novel, and loved watching Neil Narayan grow up and grapple with the America his immigrant parents believed in. Neil’s journey to figuring out what he believes, which includes a multi-layered exploration into the properties of gold, and his strange and wonderful friendship with his next door neighbor, Anita, make this story unmissable.”

Ann Napolitano bestselling author of DEAR EDWARD

“Is the American dream about hard work and sacrifice or is it about the lure of the Gold Rush, of quick riches there for the taking? Greed, regret and love are all at work here in Sathian’s completely original, utterly absorbing, complex and confident debut novel. A bravura performance from an exciting new voice.”

Karen Joy Fowler NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB