EN 478, EN 678  Advanced Fiction Writing, Fall 2011

Dr. Susan Swartwout

Office: GB 318-O; phone 651-2641 (my University Press phone: 651-2044)

email sswartwout@semo.edu



• Course Description:  Students will read and practice writing various forms of fiction in a discussion-oriented workshop setting.

• Required texts: Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction, Oates and Beha, eds.

• Reading: We will read and discuss marginalized and experimental works as well as traditional forms.


 • Writing: Writing for the course will focus on short fiction. A portfolio of your work will be developed during the semester. Revisions are a necessary part of any writing course, and the amount of work you invest in your revisions and portfolio will be considered as well as the final drafts of the work. You will also write a professional review of a recently published collection of short fiction, as described below.

• Journal: You’ll also keep a journal in which you will write at least half a page at least three times a week. Journals are a history of your life as well as a goldmine for story ideas. The journals will be included in your portfolio.

Discussion: Participation in workshop discussion is essential. We’ll review our vocabulary of terms, identify audience(s), and help each other to address our work clearly and imaginatively to that audience.

• Format of workshop: Because of the size of this workshop, we will divide into 3 groups and will alternate weeks in which each group’s work is discussed. In the week prior to your group’s workshop, you will bring enough copies of your work for each member of the class.  The fiction that you submit to the workshop should not be a first draft, but a revised and thought-out narrative with beginning and end structure. Beginning the next week, we will talk about the work we received the prior week. You are expected to have read each work and made comments both in the margins as you read and at the end as summary comments. These will be handed back to the author. Be sure to put your name on the final page in order to acknowledge your comments. It is CRUCIAL that you turn your work in on time and that you attend when your work is being discussed. Don’t waste my time nor the class’s. Not turning in work on time constitutes an “F” quiz grade since this is much more than “daily” work.

• Reader response comments: Your comments as a peer-reader are extremely important, as important to the concept of “workshop” as is your own writing. As you read each of your associates’ work, write down your reactions and corrections directly on the work, both the shorter comments in the margins, then the longer comment reflective of your reading of the entire work. Comments are your weekly homework; moreover, they reflect your respect for the writing of your associates. I’ll check your comments at random times. Don’t wait until you’re actually in class to write your comments. That shows a lack of respect for the writers of the work, and it will earn you an “F” for the week.

• Portfolio: Your final portfolio will consist of at least 25 pages of polished (i.e. extremely well-revised, not just “corrected”) short fiction and your journal.  The short fiction will consist of well-developed work, typed and doublespaced. The fiction may be several stories, one story, or a series. Although you will be turning in 25+ pages, be aware that you should be writing much more than this over the semester. The final portfolio should be your best work overall. All pieces included in the final portfolio must have been reviewed by your associates in our workshops or discussed in conference and revised. You will have 4 workshops in which to garner comments on your writing.

And to clarify, when I say 25 pages, I mean at least 25 and not a word less. I don’t fall for the giant-font illusion, so that’s a definite no-no, as is the giant-margin illusion and the whole dog-ate-it thing. Really, do not annoy me with any Ridiculous Formatting Tricks.

Professional review: You will each “adopt” a contemporary writer of short fiction (someone who has been writing and publishing since 1980)

 1) read one of her or his recently published short-fiction books, with a publication date between 2006 and 2011—no novels, no older books,

 2) write a review of the writer’s work (minimum, 3 full pages or about 750 words) in professional-review format, and­

 3) make a short, informal presentation on the author and the book to the class.

Examples of the review format will be provided. A good presentation will include biographical information about the author, a short excerpt indicative of the writer’s style, and your personal critique of the book. Browse through several books to find a writer whose work piques your interest. Or let’s talk about your interests, and I’ll make a few suggestions.

Conferences: I’m happy to have a conference with you during any office hours or other free time. I'm usually in the University Press office when I'm not in class.

Graduate Students: In addition to the regular syllabus, graduate students will complete a paper of six to ten pages, due before Fall Break. The paper will research and explore an element of creative writing pedagogy or theory such that the work furthers a continuing dialogue about the creative-writing process. The topic must be approved by the instructor.

Example topics are “The Function of Memory,” Lyrical Language in Prose,” “Advancing the Imagination,” “Pros and Cons of Canonical Curriculum,” “Hemispheric Brain Research’s Findings on Creative Writing,” “Self-editing and Revision,” “Peer Issues in Creative Writing,” a gender issue in creative writing, “Community and the Creative Writing Workshop,” “Altering Cognitive Habits in Creative Writing,” “Form’s Function,” “The Fate of Reading,” "Adventures in Punctuation or the Lack Thereof," or “The Fate of Fiction Books.”


Students are expected to know the Student Handbook’s policies on plagiarism, class behavior, and attendance.


Basis for Student Evaluation:

 Journal and Quality of final, revised portfolio – 40%

 Participation and reader responses each week – 20%

 Daily assignments and quizzes – 20%

 Book review and its oral presentation – 20%

Graduate students’ papers – 20%


Syllabus: The readings are due to be discussed on the day by which they’re listed. There will be occasional reading quizzes (short little easy tests to determine if you’ve read the story or not).

08/23 Week 1: intro to the course and discussion of “The Revolt of Mother” online

08/30 Week 2: read 3 very short stories: “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff (pg. 749), “Night Women” by Edwidge Danticat (203), and “Ranch Girl” by Maile Meloy (551)

***Group 1 hands out stories***

09/06 Week 3: read “Emergency” by Denis Johnson (383)

***Group 1 workshop; Group 2 hands out stories***

09/13 Week 4: read "The Hermit's Story" by Rick Bass (37)

***Group 2 workshop; Group 3 hands out stories***

09/20 Week 5: read "1-900" by Richard Bausch (53)

***Group 3 workshop; Group 1 hands out stories***

09/27 Week 6: Kevin Brockmeier will be in our class, author of A Brief History of the Dead, Things That Fall From the Sky (short stories), The Illumination, The Truth About Celia, The View from the Seventh Layer (short stories), and two children’s books. His awards include the O. Henry Award (2002 for the short story “The Ceiling”), Nelson Algren Award, Italo Calvino Short Fiction Award, James Michener–Paul Engle Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient

10/04 Week 7: read “The Identity Club” by Richard Burgin (153), and come to class with a literary identity that fits you in any way you wish.

***Group 1 workshop; Group 2 hands out stories***

10/11 Week 8: read “Paper Losses” by Lorrie Moore (579)

***Group 2 workshop; Group 3 hands out stories***

10/18 Week 9: read “On the Rainy River” by Tim O'Brien (629)

***Group 3 workshop; Group 1 hands out stories***

10/25 Week 10: read “The Red Bow” by George Saunders (669)

***Group 1 workshop; Group 2 hands out stories***

11/01 Week 11: Heidi Durrow will visit our class. She’s the author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, a novel which won the Bellwether Prize for Literature of Social Change. She's from Los Angeles, where she is the co-host of the award-winning weekly podcast Mixed Chicks Chat; and the co-founder and co-producer of the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival. Ebony Magazine recently named Heidi as one of its Power 100 Leaders of 2010 along with writers Edwidge Danticat, Malcolm Gladwell and Ntozake Shange. Heidi was recently nominated for a 2011 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Debut.
11/08 Week 12: read “The Toughest Indian in the World”  by Sherman Alexie (1)

***Group 2 workshop; Group 3 hands out stories***

11/15 Week 13: read “A House on the Plains” by E.L. Doctorow (227)

***Group 3 workshop; Group 1 and half of Group 2 will hand out stories ***           

11/22 Week 14: read "Mercy" by Pinckney Benedict (119)

***Group 1 and half of 2 workshop; second half of Group 2 and Group 3 hand out stories***

11/29 Week 15: Final workshop  (no reading)

12/06 Week 16: Discussion of adopted short story collections

Portfolios are due by Tuesday, Dec. 13 (4 p.m.) of finals week. There will be a collection box by my office door.