Author will show how landscapes help create interesting memoirs
When Phyllis Barber, an award-winning Park City-based author. was a child, she played a piano recital dressed as Frosty the Snowman.
"My teacher thought it was so cool to have her students dressed in costumes, so my mother made this terrible costume and stuffed it with newspaper," Barber told The Park Record. "Of course, when I sat on it, it all smashed and by the time I had finished my playing, the costume was terribly bedraggled. I was crunching around in it when I played and the stuffing kept falling out."
Writers call scenes like this landscapes that add to memoir writing. To help memoir writers tap into this sensory element, Barber will teach a five-week class called "Using Landscape to Tell Your Story" at the Poison Creek Office Building, 2064 Prospector Ave., starting on Monday, Oct. 20, from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.
The other classes will be held on Tuesdays, from Oct. 28 through Nov. 18, at the same location and times.
"The class will be about basically locating your place, knowing what that place is, remembering not only the area, but perhaps the weather and including those elements in the writing," Barber explained. "This is something I found many memoir writers don’t do. Sometimes they are too focused on the what and when, rather than the where.
"Each class will include a slightly different landscape so they can enlarge what they’ve already written," she said. "Hopefully, by the end of the five weeks, the writers will have a chapter or an essay, or something that they’ve felt like they’ve written a beginning, middle and end, instead of just little exercises."
Barber has taught this concept before at various colleges, and most notably, at the Writer’s Lighthouse Workshop in Denver, Colorado. And she was amazed at the response she got from the writers.
"I once gave an assignment to a class and I asked them to write about the worst, bad-weather day they ever had," she said. "I got back some incredible stories, because they approached the assignment through weather or geography.
"I think using those things bring back memories you may not think about otherwise," Barber said. "This is another approach to writing that helps people get into their stories more deeply."
During the five-week course, Barber will work on helping writers tap into their senses for the assignments.
"What I’ve found is that many writers will include things they see and sometimes will talk about what they hear, but they will rarely put in how something tastes or how something feels when they touch something," she said. "I do get some who write in what they smell once in a while. You can say ‘It smelled like apple pie’ and people can almost smell it in the story."
Barber, who has authored eight books, three of which are memoirs, remembered the first time she felt any type of impact from the concept — after she published her novel "And that Desert Shall Blossom," which won first place in the 1998 Utah Fine Arts Literary Competition.
The story is about those who lived in a place called Ragtown, which was once located along the Colorado River before the Hoover Dam was built.
"People have told me that they can hardly stand to read the book in the summertime because it’s so hot," she said, laughing. "The people in the book had gone down there looking for work during the Depression and had to live in these beastly conditions.
"Growing up in the desert, I knew how it felt," Barber said. "I mean, going out in the heat, there is no salvation."
After the book published, Barber found that writing landscape into her writing came naturally.
"The more I thought about it, the more it made sense," she said. "It’s about increasing your tool kit and most good writers understand how sensory details brings in the world around, rather than just concentrating on the why and what."
Barber is currently writing the story about her Frosty the Snowman piano recital for a music publication and is thinking of additional landscapes to include.
"I can talk about pianos and piano recitals, but was it a hot day? Was I sweating?" she said. "It’s just really again, finding something else to use in our writing tool kit.
"It’s like puzzle pieces," Barber said. "I always ask, ‘How can I put this together?’ and ‘What does that piece demand from me?’"
Phyllis Barber, an award-winning author of eight books, including a memoir trilogy, will be teaching a five-week class on "Using Landscape to Tell Your Story," starting on Monday, Oct. 20, at the Poison Creek Office Building, 2064 Prospector Ave., from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. The remainder of the classes will be held on the next four Tuesdays, Oct. 28 through Nov. 18, at the same time and place. The cost is $125. Call 435-200-8150 for further information.
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