I’ll be teaching an Ekphrastic Flash Fiction online workshop in early October (writing inspired by art).The dates are October 8th – 15th. 7 prompts based on 7 paintings. We’ll write flash fiction inspired by them and offer each other supportive, contructive feedback. All of the exercises will be experimental in nature and in that spirit you can adapt them to suit your needs.The cost is $130 USD or £105 GBP. If interested, please pay me and then you are enrolled. The link to pay for the course is here.
A Flash Fiction and Prose Poetry Workshop/Retreat to be held at William Wordsworth’s Historic Lake District Family Home, Rydal Mount. Led by Meg Pokrass and Ingrid Jendrzejewski
March 15th – 18th, 2020
Words Worth Writing is an upcoming flash fiction and prose poetry workshop/retreat led by Meg Pokrass and Ingrid Jendrzejewski. The 3-day/3 evening retreat will take place in historic Rydal Mount. Our focus will be on short form writing as we soak in the history and beauty of William Wordsworth’s family home, nestled deep in the heart of the Lake District.
We’ll spend our days writing, revising, resting, and learning from each other in this incredible setting. Our focus will be on craft, and on creating many new pieces, with an emphasis on how to approach revision. There will be brief one-to-one sessions where you can chose to receive feedback (with Ingrid) or to be mentored on your writing goals and publication objectives (with Meg). All of this will be included in the 3 day package.
Rydal Mount is situated in Ambleside, Cumbria, less than 2 hours from Manchester International Airport. We expect that wherever you come from, we’ll be able to help make your journey comfortable.
About Rydal Mount: Rydal Mount lies between Ambleside and Grasmere and commands glorious views of Windermere, Rydal Water and the surrounding fells. This was William Wordsworth’s best loved family home for the greater part of his life from 1813 to his death in 1850 at the age of 80. The house, which was a focus for romantic literature, continues to be owned by the Wordsworth family and retains the feel of a lived in family home. The house dates from the 16th century, although was enlarged over the intervening centuries, and even by Wordsworth himself. Wordsworth was a keen landscape gardener and the five acre garden remains very much as he designed it. It consists of fell-side terraces, rock pools and an ancient mound.
What to expect
A unique three-day/three-evening retreat with two group sessions each day including flash-craft talks, generative writing exercises, art-of-revision, one-on-one feedback sessions, wonderful meals, and evening salons in which we’ll read our stories aloud. We’ll be leaving plenty of time to write and to walk around the beautiful grounds and surrounding area. All levels of experience are welcome. Please note: Our emphasis will be on literary flash fiction as opposed to genre.
Fees and Accommodation and Transport:
Workshop fee: £350. The workshop is limited to 12 participants on a first come basis. The fee includes teaching and an individual 20-minute one-to-one session, lunch and dinner. Due to restrictions, the kitchen cannot currently accommodate vegan and food allergy diets (we’re very sorry), but vegetarian meals can be provided.
Accommodation costs are NOT included. Single room booking nearby will be available for an anticipated room rate of around £65 pppn or less (depending on numbers booked). We are liaising with a local site and may be able to provide participants with a group rates.
Transport cost are not included as part of the fee. Pickup from the Windermere station can be arranged. Please contact Meg directly re: any questions.
Refund Policy for Deposits: A Full refund (minus Paypal fees) before Jan 3rd, 2020
Meg Pokrass is the author of six flash fiction collections, most recently Alligators At Night (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2018) and The Dog Seated Next to Me (Pelekinesis, 2019). Her book of prose poetry, Cellulose Pajamas, was the recipient of the Blue Light Book Award in 2016 and has been included in two Norton Anthologies of flash fiction, Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015 and New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018). Meg currently serves as Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival U.K., Flash Challenge Editor/Judge at Mslexia, Co-Founding Editor (with Gary Fincke) Best Microfiction Anthology Series (Pelekinesis, 2020) and Founding Editor/Managing Editor of New Flash Fiction Review. She has served as a flash competition judge for the Bath Flash Award and Bath Novella-in-Flash Award,Mslexia’sFlash Fiction Competition 2018, Retreat West’s Flash Fiction Prize 2019 and many others..
Ingrid Jendrzejewski studied creative writing and English literature at the University of Evansville, then physics at the University of Cambridge. Her work has been published in places like Passages North, The Los Angeles Review, Jellyfish Review, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine and The Conium Review, and Best Small Fictions 2019. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the A Room Of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction among other competitions, and her short collection Things I Dream About When I’m Not Sleeping was a runner up for BFFA’s first Novella-in-Flash competition. She serves as a co-director of National Flash Fiction Day, editor-in-chief of FlashBack Fiction and a flash editor at JMWW.
***or For more info, before booking, email us here
The cost is $110 USD (or the equivalent in your currency). There will be 7 exercises in 7 days to get a novella-in-flash started (or if it’s already in-progress, the help with the momentum and development of the story arc). Every level welcome. As always, this workshop will take place in a private Facebook group dedicated to this workshop. If interested e-mail me.
When the class is full, I’ll be creating a waiting list, as there are often a few students who drop out at the last minute. As of this posting there are 2 spots left
“In a generative workshop, safety comes first. And fun. And kudos. When I started your classes I really needed to hear that I was good…”
Leonora Desar took one of my workshops in late 2017. Since then, she has taken many more workshops, and it’s been a privilege to see such talent develop. An absolute marvel.
Over the last year and a half, Leonora has made me aware of the happy fact that many of her anthologized and widely published flashes were conceived in my flash fiction workshops. This was happy news for a creative writing teacher! Especially with a student as prolific and original as Leonora, who writes in a quirky, refreshing way about strange and sometimes taboo subject matters and situations. She writes about them in such a creative, ingenious way that we forget how meaty her subjects are. She makes it seem easy. Makes me laugh, makes me think, makes me cry. Ending a Leonora story, one simply craves another. There is an addictive quality to her work.
As a writer myself, I’m enjoying reading about Leo’s observations about the creative process. She’s been offering her thoughts and ideas to us at New Flash Fiction Review with her advice column, Dear Leo. Dear Leo # 6 – hot off the press today!
I thought it would be fascinating to talk to Leonora about the workshop experience, which I see as an ever-evolving experiment!
Meg: When you first began taking my workshops, what was happening in your creative world?
Leonora: First off, thanks for the kind words!
Pre-workshop it was Dark Times, meaning I wasn’t writing much. I did do a lot of reading. I had this place. It was my happy place. There were palm trees (fake ones). There were also people. They weren’t reading; they were talking on the phone.
After awhile, I got down to business.
Cell phone talkers—Public Enemy #1
Stage 2: the Cough (Leonora, TM).
This wasn’t my finest hour. There may have been some phlegm involved. It was to scare people away. But it did allow me to fall in love. Not with men—with words.
Here were my bigtime crushes: Miranda July: We became BFFs. This was definitely one-sided. It went something like this—
Pee! Be still my heart. I, too, had stories about pee. Somehow I sensed that these were different and perhaps unworthy—but maybe not? Maybe Miranda July would show me.
CosmoBest American Short Stories:
When I was 14 I got dumped. He was the most popular boy in school. He looked like Christian Slater—if Christian Slater were a bit dorky and liked the Gap.
We went out for 14 hours, seven minutes, three seconds. I even asked him; he kind of forced me to. He said—women who ask men out are feminists—and who was I to prove him wrong?
I didn’t take the dumping well. I figured these were my options:
a) never leave the house
b) read Cosmo
I had fantasies. Cosmo would turn me into one of its own—the kind of girl who wouldn’t get dumped. I studied it, which was a challenge, given the lack of text. Most of the time I just inhaled the cheap perfume samples. I didn’t turn into a Cosmo girl but I did sneeze—a lot.
Best American was like that. It was Cosmo plus. For one thing, there’s text, and for another, it doesn’t smell. I studied it and sometimes I inhaled it, as if mere proximity would get me closer to something holy.
I read everything. Ok, not everything—Best American, New Sudden Fiction, V.C. Andrews (no judgments, please).
I became a dog getting born. Then I died. Then I became a woman—I drove and drove until I reached the sun, which happened off-page (presumably)3.
At some point this got tiring. I signed up for your class. It was great. I could finally retire the Cough (for now).
Meg: I make up weird exercises. Can you talk about how these helped (or didn’t help) you to find your voice, and to create such wildly creative stories?
Leonora: Thanks Meg! They did!
I wrote this thing about my parents. My father was made of fire. He sat around smoking a lot and listening to bad music and lighting cigarettes with his tongue. My mom was made of water. I was a water/fire mix. There were other ways to tell this story, but they would have been kind of lame. By using surrealism, I tried telling a familiar tale—cheating dad, screwed-up kid—in a way I hope was different, that made the piece my own.
Prompts are constraints—good ones. Now, instead of having infinite things to write about, you have this one. It’s a way of tricking your brain: not to worry so much, to have fun, to go beyond the stuff it typically likes to write—
PS: In case you’re curious (you, reader), Meg’s prompt for this was:
“Write a story in which the truth about a relationship appears and/or evaporates in stages, like a bruise.” (Inspired by this Stuart Dybek piece.)
I read the Dybek piece and flipped. I also thought: I’ll never do that, who is this woman kidding, here?
Still, it was fun to try. And Stuart Dybek, if you’re reading this—that story makes me swoon.
Meg: What is important in the environment of a writing workshop? Have you felt safe to take creative risks?
Leonora: In a generative workshop, safety comes first. And fun. And kudos. When I started your classes I really needed to hear that I was good. I hadn’t written for so long—aside from journal entries (“I suck!”) and grocery lists. Praise is manna for a writer. So is fun. It basically translates to turning off this person—
I thought maybe the palm trees had sucked it out of me—the joy. No, you said. They’re only palm trees. But maybe you should write about them.
(You didn’t actually say this—not literally.)
I felt that you’d handed me the golden ticket. Yes, you don’t suck—and that thing about your fake brother: I like it. For me this translated to: Give me more.
Meg: Is the writing brain like a muscle that we need to keep warm? How do the classes help keep that muscle-use warm?
Leonora: Yes and no (and sometimes). In my case, I tend to take these incredible sprints. I write and write (and write) and then I’m like, wait, why does my leg hurt? Or in this case, my brain. Then I’m sidelined for a year.
The classes are a great recovery program. They’re a way of saying: ok, Leonora, you’ve written 20 stories about X, maybe you should try a different track? Here. Write a thing about this elephant. Or your grandpa. Or your elephant meeting a grandpa. And make it from the POV of the elephant—on drugs.
Prompts also keep you conditioned. They’re great for when you’re rounding the track during a sprint. It’s like water—the super smart kind (with electrolytes). They nurture you and prevent you from doing this: downward spiral. Which looks like this—
I suck I suck I suck. I think I’ll just watch I Love Lucy.
(One year later…)
Meg:Do you remember your favorite prompt? Can you tell us what emerged from it?
Leonora: I loved learning about surrealism as a tool. This really got in my head—the idea that it can elevate an ordinary story into something really memorable. It was so in my head, that one day I woke up with this image. A couple: they were watching The Bachelor, or maybe The Bachelorette. Then the husband said: Ok, burial time. He didn’t actually say that. Or maybe he did. He was a bit of a cheeseball.
The guy buries his wife— alive. And that’s it. This meant I actually had to write to find out what happened next.
It was early. I had a job interview. I could either: a) do the right thing and go back to sleep
It goes back to this: using the surreal to recraft what’s familiar. For class, we read this piece: “Get Unreal.” Here, Bruce Holland Rogers talks about this. In Kafka, the guy doesn’t just turn into a giant roach; he feels like one. His physicality springs from an emotionally real place.
A different, “realer” version of my burial thing could go like this:
“Trapped NJ Housewife Takes to Television”
She’d walk around the house. Then she’d sit down. Then her husband would come home—
Want to watch TV?
What do you want to watch?
I don’t know,Handmaid’s Tale.
I’m feeling a bit oppressed.
Sorry to hear that—want me to bury you? Wait, no, wrong genre.
I’m bad at realism. Like, really bad. Surrealism is my shortcut. I love it—it’s a way of deepening familiar things. It also gives them oomph. Like a padded bra, for stories.
Meg: You’re currently getting your MFA at NYU. How has that been going? How are my writing workshops different from creative writing teaching in the university setting?
Leonora: I was very intimidated about starting NYU. First, there are famous people. As a general rule, famous people scare me. There’s this one professor. I worship her. I used to carry her around. Not technically—technically I carried around her book. I took it with me, everywhere. My friends were like—what are you doing with (redacted)—didn’t you already read that? Yes, I said. But I’m reading it again.
Maybe I thought if I’d read it enough one of these things would happen:
a) I’d turn into (redacted). Her genius would rub off on me, like when you’re a kid and have to study and it sucks and someone gets the bright idea: we should sleep with this!
b) She’d pop out of the book. Hello, Leonora. We’d have tea and she’d give me writing counsel (“you’re so great”) and take me beneath her wing, which would be hard, since she’s shorter. Or maybe she’d tell me to give up, but it would be a test. Could I handle criticism? Would I persevere?
Of course, when it came time to sign up for classes I ran the other way.
So, my friends said, which famous teachers are you taking?
None of them, I said.
This though is not the point.
Your classes feature prompts. They’re like Mary Poppins, they help lift you up along. The MFA features craft—so what makes this umbrella work, anyway? And how can we adapt it for different climates?
Meg: Can you tell us about new stories and offer us some links to those pieces?
Leonora: Strangely, some of my favorite pieces are the ones that keep getting the boot. I have a few on Keanu Reeves. Right now he’s keeping my hard drive warm. He lies there, saving people—or he has that Look. It looks like this:
I come home. He fetches my slippers. Or he makes me do it myself, so I know I’m capable. He feeds me and tells me about all the people he’s saved. That’s amazing, I say. How did you do that just lying here? Here he gives me another Look 👀 —this means Mystery.
Not many are fans of my Keanu stuff, or maybe they’re just afraid that if he escapes he’ll be unstoppable. We’ll forget all the celebrities in the world. It’ll be Keanu Fever all the time, which would be Madness.
Other stuff (un-Keanu related):
I wrote about a woman. She’s naked. She shows up at the door. Hi, she says. My name’s Beth, is your dad home?
I must’ve written this a million times. I have a thousand naked women. They’re on my hard drive. They’re all trying to get with Keanu Reeves. They’re mad that he ignores them and feeds me grapes. I tell them they’re just going to have to deal.
I also wrote about my grandma. There are millions of her, too. In most of them, she’s flirting with Bob Barker. She disapproves of having naked women around, even though she’s a bit of a badass. Most of the bad-assery happens here (Inner World).
I have this thing about Jesus.He lives in my neighborhood. He comes out every year on Christmas Eve. He escaped my hard drive early, which he’s grateful for—he’s a noise sensitive type of guy.
I have lots of stuff about my family. My dad. He was flawed, but he’s not really a bad guy. For some reason, I have a hard time getting this across, which may be why I write him—over and over again.
I should probably stop promoting myself now. Keanu’s on the loose. He’s snuck into Submittable and is wrecking havoc. He’s not used to rejection, and this is starting to bring him down. He asked me for a shrink. A therapist. If you have one you can recommend,please email me.
Meg: Horn tooting alert here! Author Jayne Martin recently said: “Take a class with Meg. She gets more weird stuff out of me than I ever knew was in there.” This made me smile. Is this true?
Leonora: Yes! You’re the Queen of Wack (meant in the best possible way).
Also, I love how it’s not just about the weird. When thinking of you as my reader, I think a) is this funny? b) is this tender?
I’m thinking of pieces we read. Molly Giles’ “The Poet’s Husband.” Or Dybek’s “Bruise.” It’s not just about the unusual, there’s feeling, here. Or Mary Miller’s “Los Angeles.” This does the best thing a piece can do:
a) makes me want to reread (NOW!!!)
b) makes me want to write.
Over time I developed something. I kind of see it like a value system, or a scale. On the one end, humor. On the other, tenderness. For a piece to be good—for me—it can’t be too heavy on the one. Too much humor, and it’s like the movies: you eat and eat and eat, and then you fart.
Or tenderness, that can be cloying, too. I’m thinking of Fleabag’s Harry. Eventually you want Arsehole, or this person:
It’s delicate. It’s like cooking—which I’m bad at. I can feel it as I’m writing (and reading). I judge my pieces by it. Is the mix right? Or did I overdo it and feel gaseous now? Does the weird mean something?
Your classes helped build this—bigtime.
Leonora Desar spent two straight days watching Fleabag until someone (not mentioning any names) forced her to leave the house. Her writing has appeared in River Styx, Passages North, Black Warrior Review, Mid-American Review, Wigleaf and Wigleaf’s top 50, among others. Her story “My Father’s Girlfriend” (matchbook) is forthcoming in The Best Small Fictions 2019. Three of her stories appeared in Best Microfiction 2019. She is eternally scared of famous people, professors and otherwise. During a Keanu Reeves sighting, she spilled coffee, didn’t meet the man himself, and bore a hole into her lap (with her eyes).
Steven Millhauser’s “Dangerous Laughter” (title story)—another one that makes me swoon.
[2 ]“The Puppies,” by Dean Paschal, in New Sudden Fiction. Sad, tender, swoon-worthy.
“Country Miles,” by Robert King in New Sudden Fiction. Ok, so a woman doesn’t quite reach the sun (maybe). She drives, and drives, and drives—