Workshop focuses on both business and craft of writing


These days it seems like everyone has a story to tell, especially on Martha’s Vineyard.

The unique character of the Island; the slowed pace, the feeling of being removed from the mainland by more than just distance; the beautiful and varied landscape that changes from bucolic countryside, to quaint towns, to the drama of the ocean, all contribute to the Vineyard being a setting ripe for a book.

And the Island has been home or summer getaway to many literary luminaries, from playwright Lillian Hellman to journalist and author John Hersey, to young adult fiction writer Judy Blume, and a list of other distinguished literary giants: Shel Silverstein, David McCullough, Dorothy West, William Styron, Geraldine Brooks, and Joseph P. Lash.

If you have a book brewing, you’ve picked a wonderful place to let your creativity blossom. There are readings and workshops, and writing groups and book signings to take part in.

This summer offers a new writing opportunity, the Vineyard Writers Workshop (VWW), a two-day program that explores both the craft and the business of writing. The workshop is open to both experienced and aspiring writers of all genres. VWW can be taken as a one- or two-day seminar August 10 and/or 11, from 12 noon to 4 pm at Island Co-Housing in West Tisbury.

VWW will be led by three seasoned literary professionals: respected Vineyard novelist and editor John Hough Jr., best-selling non-fiction author and series creator Matthew Frederick, and literary agent Sorche Fairbank, who represents authors from a variety of genres through her agency Fairbank Literary Representation.

As any writer puts pen to paper, or fingertip to keyboard, there is the question of what makes a story or idea worth writing down? How to write it so that the words are ripe for sharing, and compelling to read? If the writer manages to create something beautiful, original, exciting, what should the author do with it? Each of these challenges will be explored in depth and with hands-on attention from the faculty.

Architect and author Mr. Frederick says that he is excited to be part of a smaller workshop on the Vineyard. “I’m expecting a smart literary group and I like to teach writers about finding their big or little idea, helping people find their core idea, their thing that is unique, the theme, or concept. You can’t write everything. There has to be a focus. It’s why you are writing a book.”

Mr. Hough, who has been teaching at conferences, leading writer’s groups on the Island, and editing new writers for several years, looks forward to the reward of “…opening a student’s eyes to the basic strategies and tools of fiction writing, elements of technique that are more or less universal. Any intelligent person can understand and learn technique, and I like to think I’m conferring a certain empowerment when I succeed in teaching another writer.”

Ms. Fairbank brings the unique perspective of 12 years as a literary agent in New York and Boston during a time when the publishing industry has seen seismic shifts and continues to change. She has taught at conferences of all sizes, nationally and internationally, and she enjoys working with smaller groups where she can make personal connections with authors.

Demystifying the publishing process is important for any writer who wants to share their work on any larger scale. “First and foremost is putting things in context — the industry is changing rapidly, authors can be confused by all the choice, and there is a ton of misinformation out there,” she said. “If I can clarify, simplify, and define, perhaps this will allow writers to focus more on their craft and less on marketplace angst. In addition to talking about the publishing landscape, we’ll cover an agent’s view of craft: the beauty of writing a perfect, resonant phrase or sentence, mining a character for what makes him or her unforgettable, honing the author’s voice, and finding that essential something that makes a new writer stand out to an agent against all the competition. ”

Mr. Hough and Mr. Frederick both have new books coming out in the next few months and Mr. Frederick shares that he’ll be learning right alongside his students. “Although I’ve published 7 books, I have many new projects, one that I’ve been working on for almost 20 years, so I still struggle,” he said. “I can share with my students in that quest for making your work so much more. The process is humbling. We never become an expert; someone once told me that the words we write are always shadows of what we’re trying to say.”

Mr. Hough, whose new book is about an 18-year-old boy, a civilian, who rides against his will with General Custer into the battle of the Little Bighorn, shares that his writing like all writing, no matter the subject matter, must take risks, combining the personal and the imagined, and putting words on the page and sharing them can be difficult. “We write what we know, but for the novelist imagination is certainty, knowledge,” he said. “What we imagine and put in our fiction has to be as real as what we’ve experienced or observed ourselves, and all novels are partly or wholly imagined.”

The three teachers look forward to getting to know some Vineyard writers, be they natives or visitors. “I love the opportunity to get my hands dirty and make personal connections to new writers, in a setting that I think is one of the most beautiful spots in the U.S.,” Ms. Fairbank said. “I limit the number of workshops I teach, but I jumped at the chance to teach writers on the Vineyard. It sure doesn’t hurt to have the Island landscape on the other side of the classroom window.”

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