Desert Nights, Rising Stars 2019

In February of this year, I did my first craft presentation. I presented on the (potential) power of setting in narrative. I drew on all the wonderful instructors I’ve had over the years to come up with useful craft suggestions and generative exercises.

Expecting a modest turnout at best, I arrived a few minutes before my 9:00 AM morning session, and carefully arranged ten chairs in a semicircle. The day before, I had made two dozen copies of my handout and fully expecting to have many left over. I’ll admit that my nerves spiked when all the seats in the room filled, and people began sitting on the ledges and standing against the back walls. All in all, about 50 writers attended the session, and they were writing everything from historical fiction to high fantasy set in imagined lands.

We had a great time working through some writing exercises and looking at some of the wonderful examples I found in the work of the conference faculty, including Achy Obejas’ gorgeous, Tower of the Antilles and Hanif Abdurraqib’s brilliant, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest. I talked about Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s deceptively simple reminder that “nothing happens nowhere.” I talked, too, about AJ Verdelle’s reminder that extraordinary things often happen in ordinary settings and that mundane settings make suspenseful action even more surprising and satisfying for the reader. Some craft books that I found really helpful in putting together my talk include: the chapter on Flaubert and the flâneur in James Woods’s The Art of Fiction, Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook, and Janet Burroway’s craft books, which almost always address time and place together in one chapter because era is so crucial to defining setting.

I enjoyed every minute of my time at Arizona State University’s beautiful campus and I’m so grateful to Felicia Zamora and the rest of the Desert Nights, Rising Stars team for inviting me to present. The MFA crew at ASU was so welcoming and I can’t wait to read the work they’re putting out into the world.

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