Winter writing

Featherstone hosts writing workshops beginning this month.


It’s wintertime. It’s cold. It gets dark at an absurdly early hour. What better time to light a fire under your inner muse? The upcoming literary arts workshops at Featherstone Center for the Arts are offering us the opportunity to do just that. First up, starting on Tuesday, Jan. 23, will be the online “Memoir Boot Camp Writing Workshop,” with Laurie Lindeen, and her description immediately caught my eye:

“Are there specific times in your life that you’ve always wanted to write about? Marriage? Career? Parenting? Parents? Childhood? Travel? Education? Aging? Illness? Your wild youth? Your life as a …? Have people often said to you, ‘You should write a book’?”

Lindeen’s first career wasn’t as a writer and educator, but rather as a founding member of the indie all-woman rock band Zuzu’s Petals. As time moved forward, she became a mother, went to grad school for creative writing in her late 30s, and published her memoir, “Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story,” in her 40s. Lindeen’s writing has appeared in newspapers such as the New York Times and the Huffington Post, as well as anthologies, magazines, and literary publications. After teaching creative writing and literature at the University of St. Thomas, she recently moved back to Martha’s Vineyard after a 30-year hiatus in Minneapolis, and currently teaches English at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. And fortunately for us, she also teaches memoir writing boot camps.

Lindeen says about the genre, “Writing a memoir can change your life. By recreating and reliving things, you get a new perspective, a new understanding, and you’re also making art.”

But you can rest assured the workshop will focus on craft. “Before I was published, I attended memoir workshops led by well-known memoirists, and they were either group therapy cry-fests, or the instructors talked incessantly about themselves,” she explains. “In my workshops, I share a toolbox that revolves around memory, form, and important literary elements that you will include in writing your own memoir — a more practical approach.”

Before each session, Lindeen will distribute what she considers a perfect first chapter from a series of memoirs that deal with different ways of getting into someone’s story that the group will discuss when gathered, and then she will focus on the characteristics of memoir writing.

The most important one, Lindeen says, “is that you can’t make stuff up. Some people think you can play around with that. Another is that you use the elements of fiction and poetry writing to turn a nonfiction story into art.” From poetry, you get image-rich language and rhythm, as well as the use of similes and metaphors. From fiction, you have a plot, a subplot, and a narrative arc. “There will also be attention to setting, and character development, and dialogue, which is absolutely the hardest part about memoir,” Lindeen shares. “But you need to do it.” Memoir isn’t journalism, she explains. It’s using the types of things that people said at that time.

There will also be responses to writing prompts, workshopping, reading samples, and one-on-one opportunities for instructor feedback. Ultimately, Lindeen says, “I want people to have the toolkit to construct their own memoir.”

Jennifer Smith Turner, a full-time Vineyarder since 2012 and author of the acclaimed novel “Child Bride,” will conduct the second online offering, “The Art of Layering for Scene and Character Fiction Writing Workshop,” starting on March 7. It will be an intensely generative class that allows each participant to explore the technique of layering in scene and character development, and to apply it to in-progress work.

When you think about a gripping scene, there is something that happens at the very beginning that causes us to want to read on and find out what happens next in the story, and to the characters. Turner says, “If the scene is particularly well-written, we can put ourselves in the very space that the characters are in. We can feel, hear, smell, and even taste the environment that surrounds them.” What authors need to consider is how to move the reader from being a distant observer to someone who is fully invested in the storyline. It’s about what causes the reader to want to root for a particular character, or be so turned off by a character that they begin to love to hate them.

Turner writes in her workshop description, “In this class, you will learn the art of layering to develop three-dimensional characters and intriguing scenes that will hold the reader’s attention and create a thirst for ‘what’s next.’ Just as painters will use layering as a technique to build their canvas, as writers, we can learn to layer our writing so that we build a canvas of words that catches the reader’s eye and mind for the full length of a novel.”

In truth, while Lindeen will focus on memoirs and Turner on novels, each of them will be teaching important skills and information for writing either fiction or nonfiction, and welcome all levels of writers in any genre.

To register and for more information, see

  • “Memoir Boot Camp Writing Workshop” with Laurie Lindeen
  • Tuesdays Jan. 23 and 30, Feb. 6 and 13, 6 to 7:30 pm
    Online via Zoom; $275
  • “The Art of Layering for Scene and Character Fiction Writing Workshop” with Jennifer Smith Turner
  • Thursdays, March 7, 14, 21, and 28, 5 to 6:30 pm
    Online via Zoom; $275