“Ben Percy’s craft book, Thrill Me, suggests writers should have NO BACKSTORY, which sounds shocking at first, but it has really helped me pick up the pace and urgency of my fiction.”
Charlotte Gullick is Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. She holds BA in Literature/Creative Writing from UC Santa Cruz and a MA in English/Creative Writing from UC Davis as well as a MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, and residencies at MacDowell and Ragdale.
On December 9, Charlotte will teach class “Honing the Spark and Mapping Out Your Revision.” This class will introduce strategies for assessing what you have in your manuscript, where you want to go, and how to connect the two. We asked Charlotte about the books she’s learned from, challenges she’s faced in her own work, and what people will take away from the class.
What is a book that you recommend to people over and over? What makes it so compelling?
Well, it used to be In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje because of the poetic prose, the exploration of class, and the rich rendering of characters. After reading Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, this book has become my favorite–maybe of all time. I love the main character so much–she got under my skin and lived there, and I couldn’t separate myself from her incredibly deep challenges, couldn’t separate myself from what race slavery did and does to the human psyche, to all of us. Whitehead covers vast swaths of distance and time with a deft, compelling narrative, and Cora is at the center of it all.
In your own work, what has been one challenge posed by the craft, structure, voice, etc., of a book that you’ve had to puzzle out?
In my own writing, I tend to bog down with backstory, so keeping a lively, intriguing plot at the forefront of the prose has been a challenge. Ben Percy’s craft book Thrill Me, suggests writers should have NO BACKSTORY, which sounds shocking at first, but it has really helped me pick up the pace and urgency of my fiction.
Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?
I have had a few epiphanies – and those have been great for about the ten minutes that they last. Mostly, they go like this: “I am a genius for being able to solve my craft challenge in this particular way.” And then, I’ve learned from experience to give the brilliance a day or two, then I can see the merits and weaknesses of the “solution” – then, with humility, I try again.
What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?
It is almost my own cliche, “What do you want readers to feel/think/do when they finish your work?”
What is one thing that people will take away from this class?
A strong understanding that revision is a multi-layered process, and that enjoying this process allows for more possibility, more insights, more confidence.
Click here to learn more about and register for Charlotte’s class.
Click here for our current class schedule.