The Mark Blog

Writers' Reel: Your Haruki Murakami Primer

Author Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, is set to hit the States next month. As fans anxiously await its arrival, watch this lovely video by animator Ilana Simons that details the award-winning author’s creative journey. From his first revelation, experienced at a ballgame, that he would become a novelist to how his writing plays with the tension between the conscious and the unconscious, this animated video visually depicts Murakami's history with eye-popping artistry.

"[Murakami believes that] every person is the storehouse of her sensual, visual memories. A writer has to return to those memories and turn those experiences into words. It’s a very difficult, brilliant alchemy.” – Ilana Simons on Murakami 

Bookmark This: Terrance Flynn on Coming Out of the Closet

Terrance Flynn, 2013 Emerging Voices Fellow, shares his experience of secretly writing in his father’s closet as a child. In this light-hearted essay, Terrance reveals how being awarded the Emerging Voices Fellowship marked his literary ‘coming out.'
“I wrote in my dad’s closet as a kid—more a matter of the carpeting and quiet than an unconscious psychodynamic crisis. His Arrow shirts hung above me in dry cleaning bags that tickled my shoulder and clung to the back of my neck. Better parts of whole days spent writing amidst fumes of dry cleaning fluid and Speed Stick by Mennen, which I applied in order to smell like my dad and older brothers, a scent called regular.
Many years later, PEN Center USA outed me as a writer by proclaiming me a 2013 Emerging Voices Fellow. At least it felt like an outing, a proclamation, spoken in the steadfast voice of a town crier—none of the shillyshallying of the whisper inside my head. Proclamations help. They tell you what the hell to do. Also outings: they hold you accountable. 
The Emerging Voices Fellowship is a series of ongoing conversations on writing lead by authors, poets, audiences, the PEN community, agents, publishers, and fellow fellows—all who expect you to cough up further proof of being a writer of note. For me the fellowship boiled down to a series of threats of being exposed as a fraud. This served me well.  A touchdown still counts if the running back is scrambling to escape being pulverized. Panic or fancy footwork, both earn the points.
The less romantic aspects of the fellowship get less attention: talk of deadlines, loglines, submission guidelines. The necessity (for published authors even) to hold day jobs. Whether to MFA or not. Which residences, conferences and funding sources to ignore or pursue. How to read faster in your own head and more slowly to an audience.
Since last July, I’ve internalized the scramble and run headlong into other opportunities: some publications, more readings and fellowships, and recently an agent who expects me to cough up a full draft of my book to be proposed in the fall. It’s dangerous to speak of things that don’t yet exist, like a completed first book, but we are just talking here. A conversation about writing, no longer in a closet, though I still run scared from one sentence to the next in search of meaning and in fear of annihilation. As for now, I can claim applying for this unique fellowship. That was all me: I applied.”
Terrance Flynn recently signed with Lorin Rees of Rees Literary Agency to represent his memoir, Dying to Meet You. He was awarded a 2014 Promise Award by the Sustainable Arts Foundation, the Stanford Calderwood fellowship from the MacDowell Colony, and a 2013 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices fellowship. Terrance is a finalist for the Wabash Prize for Nonfiction judged by Cheryl Strayed. He's been published in Slice Magazine, and two essays are forthcoming in Sycamore Review and Creative Nonfiction.  

The deadline to apply for the 2015 Emerging Fellowship is August 11. Click here for more info. And don’t miss the Emerging Voices Meet and Greet on July 20 at Skylight Books!




Writers’ Reel: Remembering Walter Dean Myers


Last Tuesday, award-winning children’s book author Walter Dean Myers passed away at the age of 76. Myers wrote more than 100 children's books and was a strong advocate of diversity in children’s literature, recently penning the article, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” for the New York Times. His list of honors includes a Michael L. Printz Award, a John Newbery Medal, and a Coretta Scott King Award for Authors. His words will live on for generations to come. Watch the author talk about his start as a young reader in this Reading Rockets video.

“I spent 10 years, 11 years in speech therapy. I couldn’t speak very well for most of my childhood life. So when I wasn’t playing ball or fighting someone I would be home with my books. My books were my friends.” – Walter Dean Myers  



Bookmark This: Bret Anthony Johnston on Rejection

In today’s Bookmark This, author Bret Anthony Johnston tackles the beast that affects all writers—rejection. In a funny essay titled “On Rejection; or Dear Author, After Careful Consideration,” Bret compares writers with skateboarders learning how to perfect jumps and spins with prolonged dedication.

“Like skateboarders, writers live by rejection; like writers, any skater worth his salt must have the single-minded tenacity of a wiener dog.” - Bret Anthony Johnston
Join PEN Center USA on July 11, 2014 at 7:30pm when we present Bret at a special reading at Skylight Bookstore. RSVP here!
Plus, Bret will be leading the This Is How We Do It: A Practical Approach to Craft Workshop on July 12th at 10am. Register here.

Writers' Reel: Happy Birthday Franz Kafka!

This Thursday marks Franz Kafka’s 131st birthday! Born in Prague, Kafka is one of the most studied author of the 20th century. Commemorate the writer’s birthday by watching this animated, award-winning short film created by Piotr Dumala. The film is based on Kafka’s diaries.

Watch the 16-minute short here:

Courtesy of Open Culture.


Bookmark This: Jamie Schaffner on Being Lost

This week, 2011 Emerging Voices Alum Jamie Schaffner reminisces about struggling to find her place in the fellowship. Jamie explains how she found her literary footing with the help of authors Janet Fitch, Bernard Cooper, Dinah Lenney, and vocal coach Dave Thomas.

“From the application to the Final Reading, the Emerging Voices Fellowship wasn’t easy. As a perfectionist with floundering confidence, I did what I always do with the unknown and difficult—gave it everything I had. This, I reasoned, was the only way I wouldn’t get distraught and lost and, in short, be stranded proverbially naked in front of esteemed authors, other fellows, my mentor, and the PEN Center USA staff.  

Every week, I read every sentence in every book selected for the Author Evenings and prepared questions, so that on Mondays I’d be articulate. At the PEN Center USA office, sitting elbow-to-elbow with other fellows at a table chock-full of salami, cheeses, and crackers, we engaged with remarkable authors. I was not articulate. Before our vocal coaching, I read my excerpt out loud incessantly and set a stopwatch to ensure I wouldn’t exceed five minutes. I exceeded five minutes. The master classes, we were told, would be run like the Iowa Workshop. Meaning: don’t speak, don’t explain. Instead, just listen to the critiques. I spoke; I explained.

I was distraught. I was lost. I was naked.

Still, I soaked up the array of writing knowledge, tools, and inspiration. During our evening with Bernard Cooper, he asked about hurdles we had with our work, and, from our brief responses, he offered dead-on advice. “Sometimes you just trip on your end. You’re writing and you realize that’s it,” Cooper said to me. Afterward, I stopped chasing my novel’s ending. Months later, after writing a scene, among the endless scenes in Get the Girl, I reread what I’d written and it hit me—that was the end. Another evening, Janet Fitch inscribed my copy of Painted Black with a nod to a symbol I’d used in my own work. Encouraged, I watched for other symbols that I might deploy in my novel. When I felt claustrophobic writing in first person, I took Dinah Lenney’s suggestion and switched to second. I gained distance, as she’d said, and was able to see what the scene was about, then returned to first person. During the Hammer reading, I did what Dave Thomas, our vocal coach, said to do: nothing. Leave a gap, a silence, at the end of a crucial moment. I stopped reading, gripped the podium, unnerved, and counted to three. The audience grew quiet, waiting on my next word, as Thomas said they would.

For eight months, I read a book a week, attended an Emerging Voices workshop or event at least two times a week, wrote new pages, edited existing scenes and commented on colleagues’ writing. All the while, I was certain the day would come when I wouldn’t get nervous during an Author Evening. Or, before our next public reading, I wouldn’t have to recite my piece out loud while lying curled in the fetal position until leaving for the venue. Or, when the thick manila envelope with my mentor’s comments arrived, I wouldn’t put off opening it.

That day never came.

It’s been three years since I became an Emerging Voices Fellow and still, I’m distraught. I’m lost. I’m naked. I’m writing.”

Jamie Schaffner was born in Los Angeles, raised in Portland, Oregon and has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from UC Santa Barbara. She was a 2011 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow, a UCLA James Kirkwood Award Finalist and her work appears in the anthology Best Lesbian Romance (Cleis Press, 2011). She is a member of the reading series Dirty Laundry Lit, and is completing her debut novel Get the Girl. Jamie lives in Los Angeles with her wife and their cats—Lucy, Ethel and Buffy.

Join Jamie at the Meet & Greet on July 20 at 5pm at Skylight Bookstore when current and former Emerging Voices Fellows and mentors answer your questions about the fellowship. For more information, click here.


Writers’ Reel: James Baldwin on How Reading Saved His Life

The author of Go Tell It On the MountainThe Fire Next TimeSonny’s Blues, and many other prolific works is interviewed in this California Newsreel documentary. James Baldwin talks openly about his strict upbringing by his father and how the library helped him connect to the world. 

“You think your pain and your heartache are unprecedented in the history of the world but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very thing that connected me to all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”


Bookmark This: Current Emerging Voices Fellow Marci Carrillo on Finding Her Literary Community

In this essay, 2014 Emerging Voices Fellow Marci Carrillo gives thanks for being introduced to a community of writers that have helped support her on her journey. It is finding a tribe of like-minded individuals, she states, that has had the most impact on her of anything she has experienced in the fellowship.
“I took a chance on myself and applied for the 2014 Emerging Voice Fellowship. I took a chance on being a writer.  And after being immersed in it for the last six months, this is what I know: community. It’s all about the community of writers. Writers you’d never otherwise have the opportunity to sit down and drink wine and eat cheese with and talk about the meaning and purpose of being a writer. It was Janet Fitch that taught me that every writer is rejected at first and to never give up.  And it was Samantha Dunn who defended putting my heart on the page, knowing that someone out in the world, someone you’ll never meet, will pick up your book, read it, and see the world differently. Jerry Stahl who had me laughing and crying and challenged me to call myself a writer. David Ulin who taught me how to throw the literary football in a story and be brave enough to catch it in the end. Douglas Kearney who challenged my idea of the written word by putting it upside-down and vertical and calling it poetry, which it was and so much more.  
The other community is my Emerging Voices Fellows. The ones who hear my doubts, who smile at me right before I go on stage and read to one hundred and fifty plus people feeling as if my guts were about to explode all over the audience. Being able to look at one of them in the middle of it and see the reassurance and know I’m not alone is a gift. Aand when it’s all over, we will go to the bar and drink and laugh and cry and I know that we have formed friendships and bonds that will last well beyond the fellowship itself. 
Has the Emerging Voices Fellowship been easy? No. But it's not meant to be. It’s meant to challenge us as writers. Make us hear our words so loudly that we are deafened by them. To be so quiet that we hear our heart beat on the page, to listen with a new understanding of ourselves.  But we do not do this alone. We could not do this alone. We do this as a community, in fellowship, with each other.  So take a chance on yourself and become an Emerging Voices Fellow.  So, at the end of the fellowship, this is all I have to say, ‘Hi, I’m Marci and I’m a writer.’”
Marci Carrillo is a Southern California native. Born in San Diego, she grew up in such diverse places as Pine Valley, La Jolla, and Bakersfield. Marcia resides in Chino Hills with her husband, two sons, and numerous cats. She is currently working on a memoir titled The Woman in the Chimney.
The deadline for the 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship is August 11, 2014. Click here to apply.
And don’t miss the Meet & Greet on July 20th at Skylight Bookstore at 5pm! R.S.V.P. and share on Facebook here.


Writers’ Reel: Happy Birthday Joyce Carol Oates!

The celebrated author Joyce Carol Oates (Black WaterWhat I Lived For) turned 76 yesterday. Let’s honor the day by watching her talk about her writing process in this New Yorker video. Joyce, who was a PEN Center USA 2012 Literary Awards Festival Honoree, shares where she works, how revision relaxes her, and her experience of the act of observing.
“As a writer, I’m really kind of a formalist. I’m interested in various kinds of form. I’m interested in language, structure. And when I think of a story I think of the appropriate or the ideal language.” - Joyce Carol Oates



Bookmark This: Shanna Mahin On Claiming A Seat At The Table

Shanna Mahin, 2008 Emerging Voices Alum, shares her experience of applying to the fellowship. After feeling completely disconnected from the writing community, she writes how the fellowship gave her the courage to begin a professional writing career. Shanna’s novel, Oh! You Pretty Things, was just sold to Dutton in a significant deal in April. The book is slated for publication in spring 2015.
“I went to my first writer’s conference in 2006. It was totally fancy. Mary Karr and Kathryn Harrison were the headliners, swoon, and the workshops were staffed by a bevy of academic heavy hitters. 
I remember standing in the cafeteria on the first evening, looking at the staff table and thinking, ‘there are the real writers.’ I felt like a total imposter. I’d been working in Hollywood as an assistant to celebrities and rich people for well over a decade, so it’s not like I was unfamiliar with feeling out of place or different.
The sum total of my formal writing education at that point was a 9th-grade English class, a couple of classes at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and a too-short private workshop with the amazing Samantha Dunn. It was Sam who encouraged me to apply for the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship. 
‘I’m not exactly underserved,’ I said, pointing out my middle class, straight, whiteness.
‘Honey,’ she said. ‘You dropped out of high school in the 10th-grade and you basically raised yourself. You fucking qualify.’  (Disclaimer: I put that in quotes, but I’m paraphrasing. Although I will say that Sam does indeed swear like an old timey saloon owner.)
Sometime between my application and the final interview, my husband’s job changed and we relocated to San Diego. The interview committee was dubious about my potential commute. I told them I would crawl up the 405 every day on my knees if they picked me. I also cried and babbled incoherently. They chose me anyway. 
Life changer. 
The fellowship gave me a lot of things: a mentor who meticulously read every page of my work; a wonderful group of peers I adore; writing classes of all shapes and sizes; the chance to meet dozens of great writers and hear their thoughts on writing, publishing, and life; and so much more. But the biggest, most important takeaway for me was that I learned I have a seat at the table. Those “real” writers in the cafeteria weren’t different or more special than I was, they were just further along the road. My road. Being an Emerging Voices Fellow taught me that. 
When I realized my first book—the sum total of my output since I started writing in 2006—just wasn’t working, it should have been the end for me. Historically, that’s how I roll. I have a track record of getting things to the three-quarter mark and abandoning them. 
And I’m not gonna lie, I was in a face plant for a couple of months. But then a weird thing happened. I woke up one day, opened up a blank document, and started something new. Instead of moving on to sculpting or improv or whatever the fuck, I sat down at the computer and I wrote my ass off. You know why? Because I’m a writer. It took me six years to learn how to write a book and a year to write a new one. Another year to edit it, find the perfect agent, and send it out into the world. 
I have a seat at the table. Thank you, PEN Center USA Emerging Voices, for teaching me that. 
Isn’t it time for you to claim your seat?”
Shanna Mahin is a high school dropout with a fierce desire to disprove her 9th grade English teacher's prediction of “a lifetime of wasted potential.”  She mourns his passing for the missed opportunity to point out her MacDowell Colony fellowship, Norman Mailer Colony fellowship, and PEN Center USA Emerging Voices fellowship. She’s also been awarded full residencies at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and several other writing programs.
To apply to the 2015 Emerging Voices Fellowship, click here.