2023 Summer Writing Retreat: An Interview with Chaitali Sen (Fiction)

“The chance to go more deeply into a process or topic for twelve hours over four weeks, and develop relationships over a whole month, at a very reasonable price, is invaluable.” -Chaitali Sen

This July, join us for our virtual 2023 Summer Writing Retreat featuring three classes on memoir & personal essay, fiction, and revision plus lots of special events throughout the month, including Saturday Craft Seminars (July 8 and July 29), meet-ups, and dedicated writing time.

Our fiction class, taught by author Chaitali Sen, will focus on “Writing the Page-Turner: Building Suspense in Any Genre of Fiction.” This class is for writers of short stories and novels in any genre and class registrants will learn more about how to construct tension and offer their readers engaging plot lines.

Here’s what Chaitali had to share with us:

Scribe: You’ve taught at the Summer Writing Retreat previously, welcome back! Can you tell us why you enjoy this event and spending time with this community of writers? 

Chaitali Sen: I always love working with the Writers’ League of Texas learning community, but the format of the Summer Writing Retreat is really special. When it comes to growing as a writer, the chance to go more deeply into a process or topic for twelve hours over four weeks, and develop relationships over a whole month, at a very reasonable price, is invaluable. When I taught in the SWR in 2021, I was so impressed with the commitment of my students to their craft and their stories. We had fun and learned a lot together.

Scribe: You’re teaching the Fiction class and are focusing on building suspense – can you tell us why you wanted to approach fiction from this angle?

CS: I decided to concentrate on suspense in every genre of fiction – which is really just a short cut for saying the story has something that makes the reader turn the page – because I like to design classes around topics I’m wrangling with in my own writing. Like all writers, I often struggle with the gap between my interest in a story I’m writing and the abstract, collective “reader” that I hope to reach. And as a teacher, I need to understand very well the relationship between plot and other craft elements, to help my students create a highly readable and compelling manuscript. I also think some of the advice out there is overly complicated, and divorced from the simple human act of telling a good story.

 Scribe: How does this topic resonate with your own work and your own development as a writer?

CS: I started thinking about this when a novel I wrote could not find a publisher. Some of that of course might be due to subjective issues like what is popular at the time or what publishers think readers want. But when I looked at the manuscript again, after I thought I was done with it, I could see why publishers thought the story didn’t have enough energy, so I started trying to parse out some common elements that create a “page-turner” and apply what I learned to this manuscript as well as to newer work.

Scribe: How would you finish this sentence: If the students in my class take away one thing from the four weeks, I hope it’s:

CS: I hope it’s a toolbox for understanding and applying good storytelling techniques to their fiction projects.

Thanks, Chaitali!

Chaitali Sen is the author of the novel The Pathless Sky and the story collection A New Race of Men from Heaven, chosen by Danielle Evans as the winner of the 2021 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Her stories and essays have been published by American Short Fiction, Boulevard, Catapult, Colorado Review, Ecotone, Electric Literature, Los Angeles Review of Books, New England Review, and many other publications. She holds an MFA from Hunter College – City University of New York, and currently lives in Round Rock, Texas.

Click here to learn more about Chaitali Sen’s upcoming fiction class during the 2023 Summer Writing Retreat.

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