Noteworthy: Ron Carlson

Author Ron Carlson (photo by Tracy Hall)

Deb Vanasse was fortunate to be in
the audience at Squaw Valley Writers Workshop two years ago when Ron Carlson
presented a talk called “Blue Heart, a Tale of Two Stories.”  In his lecture, Carlson used a short story
about a pen and an ink stain and a writer to discuss his writing process.

What follows are her notes
from his talk. Though in rough form, they serve as an introduction to Ron’s
unique insights. Most (but not all) of the quotes are lines from the short
story he referenced throughout his lecture.

Be sure to mark your
calendar for Wednesday, Sept. 4,
when Ron Carlson joins local author Don Rearden onstage at the
Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson, 7 pm, for the first 49 Writers Crosscurrents talk of the upcoming literary season.

  • For
    years Ron thought the way he was writing stories was wrong.
  • Things that happen to him; things he confronts: collisions 
  • Things he hears from others 
  • Concepts: weird, what if – example why they jump over the base pad 
  • Personal approach: writes 10-12 pages to find out how the character is not him 
  • Where’s the second story? 
  • Into what life has that event come? Sometimes as stories are drafted, everyone seems to have time to deal with a problem. 
  • The fact that you can’t go when you do go gives the adventure value 
  • Nasty moment can equal charged. Incident involving nakedness or dishabille that is uncomfortable. That’s not the story, it’s just what draws you through 
  • Blue Heart: what’s not yours, how it’s not you 
  • An investigation we’re having about who we are. Metaphorical breath – diving in. “I can bring this story in for about seven dollars.” 
  • Since I don’t know where I’m going, why would I hurry? Possibilities of where you might have stood to find the heart 
  • Only the writer needs to believe the story; writing’s about being in the dark. 
  • If he doesn’t know the name, he uses Mickey for men and Doris for women. Keep going! 
  • Stay away of the internet until 2 p.m. 
  • Every story has an outer story; he finds the inner story through the outer story 
  • Eight and a half pages backwards through the streets of Boston, on a mission with the old man 
  • Outer story must involve us; vicarious thrill. You can’t spend enough time on the outer story, the simple physical part of the narrative 
  • Easy sentences, you can follow. Try to mess it up so you have something to come back to. 
  • Step into it. “A book that would cost me everything and pay me nothing.” A nervous-making part of the story. Stay in the room, over the rise until you get a grip. 
  • Introducing characters: what is the least likely reaction in the new moment for the old character? Make everyone in the story smarter than you are. “So you’re the poet.” 
  • Small detail for each character, not too crazy (tag) 
  • Rule of short story: you see everything twice 
  • “I had spent the last half year not knowing what to say.”: first interesting sentence. 
  • Simple things, not extreme, can be great. Don’t tip the story off the table. 
  • “She was bored and having fun and that was nice.” Take a minute as a writer; sit in both chairs. In writing dialogue, your responsibility is to sit in each chair. 
  • The characters aren’t there to serve the writer. An ungangly mess…as if we knew what we wanted. 
  • “I hadn’t finished because of my reason.” 
  • Shifted to the third person – the first person dislocated. Ron hadn’t done this before. “That isn’t the crazy waitress. I’m just talking.” 
  • The inkling blooms: “I wanted them to let me out, and they did.” 
  • Once it’s set up, the writer has to take her time. Be humble before your materials and follow. 
  • Short story, a shadow, a little darker than he first thought. 
  • You get on thin ice like that, you have to be careful with every phrase 
  • Don’t stop; don’t leave the room. Check your inventory. Go slow as you type toward your goal. 
  • The moment that drove you in, the incident. Your instinct, your sense of what hope is, what jealousy is, etc – these are the unspeakable, the in-fable. 
  • In order to stay in the room, keep typing. One sentence at a time. One reach of the whole story – poetic – he keeps it. 
  • Utterly simple. If you have to go slow, get it right. The description follows the character. 
  • Sport coat on the shoulders – most intimate thing you can do. Touching is very charged. Second sentence to earn the first sentence. Fifth time he’s seen the pen – that’s good story writing. 
  • Gambit – great long flashback. “Where it bloomed like a ghost.” 
  • The reaction shot – someone looking. 
  • Stay on the island, the exposed place…her line about clubbing. Earn the turn if you have someone change. 
  • Another story: The Journalist. Gem: the worst photograph he ever saw. 
  • Carol Smith said to him, “It will be very interesting if you ever go deeper in the cave.” He’s out of his comfort zone already in his work. 
  • In this story, 1600-1800 words: he sets tight and deep, gets most of the details on the way in. 
  • He thought the flashback would be his out – the boy, the boy. 
  • He didn’t know who the woman would be. When he writes, he writes fast. You can finesse in a very short story as you go.
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