The Story Intensive Teachers

I’m pleased to introduce the teachers for the Fall 2020 semester: (subject to change)

Return to the Story Intensive page

CANDICE MAY

Candice May lives on a remote gulf island in British Columbia, Canada. As a younger writer, her short fiction and poetry appeared in The Claremont Review, and her poetry chapbook, ‘A Letter From India’, was published by Leaf Press. Recently, her creative non-fiction has appeared in The Porter House Review, and she was a finalist in the 2019 Craft Literary Short Fiction Prize. She is currently writing a collection of short stories.

_____

Iam a two time alumni of The Story Intensive, and am thrilled to be joining this remarkable cohort of Intensive teachers. As a student, The Story Intensive revived my writerly self back to life. Before taking the Intensive, I was pecking at writing like a hungry bird. Scribbling in my journal, dabbling here and there, frustrated that I wasn’t writing stories and poetry, even though that was the thing I wanted to do the most.

I joined the Intensive (twice), and found myself immersed in exactly the kind of writing community I so needed. The exercises and assignments, lessons and structure, writing friends, and supportive teachers all helped to sustain and nourish my writing practice. I was pointed back towards myself, and I still write from this place, everyday.

I learned that having a writing community is invaluable. We don’t have to write alone. When we get stuck, bored, procrastinate, or avoid writing (it’s okay, we all do it), we can turn to our writing group for motivation and inspiration. I am a big fan of online writing classes, and take many of them myself. But I have yet to find one comparable to the Sarah Selecky Writing School. Here, writing and writing practice are treated with utmost respect. I understand the drive
that brings writers to their work—it can be nearly primal. There is often an irresistible urge to write, a gnawing at the soul. Here, we learn how to access that part of ourselves so we can write from this deepest, truest place. There is plenty of un-learning and loosening up. Practice and play. We discover our voice again, or for the first time.

The Story Intensive is the place to find your inner writer again, if you’ve lost them. It’s a place to meet with writers who are wise, supportive, and brave. And it’s a place to learn more about craft technique — expert lessons on how to write better drafts.

I love the balance of structure and surprise that the Intensive offers. You will read, you will write, you will stay on track. You will find your community and break down barriers that get in between you and your work. This is magical, life-affirming stuff. I so look forward to meeting you and your writing!

Back to top


CAROLINE DONAHUE

CarolineDonahue.jpgCaroline Donahue is a coach for writers and the host of the Secret Library Podcast. She has worked with books for over 10 years and has served as a copywriter, editor, and proofreader at various stages in her career, although fiction is her passion. She’s completed NaNoWriMo about five times and is an alum of the Story Course and the Story Intensive. While she loves getting out to explore the world through travel and cultural events, in many ways there is nothing more appealing to her than pyjamas and a book. She hangs out at carolinedonahue.com.

_____

Ihave loved writing my entire life and I can’t imagine a better place to celebrate this than as part of the Story Intensive. There is something magical that happens when people come together to take writing seriously and I am delighted to lead a small group through the process. I’ve been a devotee of writing all my life, beginning as an obsessive reader, then a creative writing student, and more recently as an editor and proofreader. Language is my drug of choice. I think writing is a mystery that I’ll never quite get to the bottom of, which is one of the things I love most about it. As the host of The Secret Library podcast, it’s been my privilege to talk with some great minds on the topic of writing and how to do it well. I feel that being in a writing community can change your relationship to your writing and change what you believe is possible. This transformation began for me when I took the Story Intensive. I hope to support my group of students in building their confidence as well, and to help them believe that their writing is inevitable. There is no turning back, and this is a beautiful thing. I cannot wait!

Back to top


CHRISTINA CHA

Christina-Cha-1.jpgChristina Cha writes short fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work has been published in The Coachella Review and shortlisted for the 46th New Millennium Writing Award for Nonfiction. She is currently working on a collection of linked essays. A California native, Christina lives and works in San Francisco as an editor and writing mentor, and has been teaching in Sarah Selecky’s Writing School since 2013. 

_____

Ilove the writers I meet through the Story Intensive. We know this: we are all stripped and exposed and raw when we write with honesty and vulnerability, pulling from the deep and mysterious wherever-fiction-comes-from place. (If you are writing fiction, you can’t hide. You are there on the page.) It’s so terribly risky, but so gratifying to communicate from here, meeting writer to writer. This is my favorite part of being a teacher.

The Story Intensive—its format, its participants, its Sarah-ness—holds this seemingly paradoxical vulnerable yet safe and supportive space. We are all finding our balance on the same vast, exhilarating, and terrifying wave and (ideally) are so engaged in our own ride that we can only look over at our comrades and yell woohoo and marvel together. This, to me, seems to be the Story Intensive effect. I love this. Because if you are devoting time to your writing, having fun and taking risks, there is no room for judgment or competition or all that ego ego blah blah that kills the writing. There is room for awe, virtual high fives, good writing.

I watch students get churned up by the writing practices (with excitement or resistance) into a delicious state of fertile chaos, and I am forced (in a welcome way) to read work-in-progress from as open a place as it takes to write. Whether I’m reading a short exercise or the story drafts, I am pulled in and pulverized and put back together with a few missing pieces, or maybe a few extra (again, in a welcome way). And from there, I get to give feedback. it’s sun-in-the-brain-blasting, endurance-testing fun.

This is the thing I always say to my writing comrades: in my experience so far, those who write or want to write have a NEED to write. This high-stakes need creates minefields of resistance. And to be a part of helping navigate through this, and watching someone go from a state of not-writing to writing, from wherever they started, is *@$&! beautiful. I very much enjoy making war on the inner critic, who tries to trap us in sneaky thought loops to convince us not to do this thing we love. I shake my fist, rattle my spear, blast a mystical evil-banishing light against the obscuring forces of resistance to help writers (myself included) write what they want to write from their most direct, unfiltered, honest place.

I love the mysteries of the writing process. I love making up goofy metaphors for writing and not-writing. Also, if you end up in my class, I will fall in glowing, beaming writer love with you. I can’t help it.

Back to top


HILARY FAIR

Hilary Fair 1.jpgHilary is a writer and psychotherapist, with previous lives working in publishing and pottery. She completed graduate work in English Literature, then in Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy; in between, she worked for major Canadian magazine, The Walrus; sat on the editorial committee for Descant Magazine; and attended the Haliburton School of the Arts to study ceramics—a craft she had admired all her life. On the other side of these various and perhaps random seeming trainings, she can see a through line—a drive to sustain creative vitality, flexibility, and freedom in order to keep her working life fresh and her stamina strong. Hilary has written for the The Stratford Festival’s Fanfares magazine, The Walrus blog, and Open Book: Toronto; as a graduate student, she co-authored a paper that won the Woman’s Caucus Award at Western University. She is currently working on revisions to a short story collection, and daydreaming about articles on neuroscience and learning to write poems well.

_____

When I found Sarah Selecky and her writing school I was shocked—then thrilled—to discover that someone else was articulating all the things I felt, but couldn’t figure out how to say, about writing.

 Sarah asked me to think about writing as a relationship. Full of the same joys and pains as anything else beloved to us. Wait, what? She thought of it that way, too? Who was this smart stranger, speaking straight to (what felt at the time like) my atrophied creative soul? I dove into her letters and blog content. I emerged hopeful. Since you’re here, I imagine a similar alchemy may be alive in you, too?

In 2016, I had been on a painful hiatus from my pen. I was nervous to nudge back up to this part of myself, but I remembered Sarah and her prompts, and I made a New Years resolution to write from those prompts. Ten minutes a day; no expectations, no exceptions. By May, I had a full notebook and was enrolled in the Intensive; by the following February, I was digging deep in the Story Workshop. My return to writing was full of longing and trepidation, but the pain of avoiding it had finally become stronger than the pain of looking at it head on. And when I got brave, when I dug back in, I discovered my writing was still there—patiently waiting to be remembered.

I had spent most of my life with words and books, and I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to them. But I had done a lot of my “loving on” writing from inside academia—and in the process, I had shackled myself to a totally intellectualized, pretty juiceless way of approaching it.

I’ll admit, at first it was hard for me to compute that doing “good work” didn’t equal drudgery or that “real critique” didn’t equal an ego assault. This shouldn’t be a revelation: we don’t stomp on plants and yell at them to grow. But learning that we can be rigorous and joyful in our work; that we can be both useful and gracious in our feedback to others—and receive the same? That was a game changer.

Through the Intensive, I learned the concrete elements of the story-writing craft that allow ideas to blossom into full narratives. Absolutely, I did. You will, too. But the first, most profound lesson? I learned to play. It’s not always easy, of course, but something huge happened when I stopped trying to hammer my creativity into being.

It sounds contrary, but I think I had to mature into playfulness. When I got vulnerable, honest, and raw, my work got stronger. I finally learned that taking my writing (and myself) “less seriously” doesn’t mean I’m not serious about my writing. It means that I’m absolutely serious about fostering a freer space for it to grow.

This learning happened when I immersed myself in a group with thoughtful peers and a great teacher. They brought insight, generosity, diligence, and encouragement to our every encounter. This is where the momentum happens. It was in relationship with my Story Intensive group that I strengthened my private relationship with my writing. I worked hard. I stayed accountable. I felt on fire. And I began to trust that it was safe to take risks and push myself.

It's an honour and a privilege to be part of the writing processes of others, and to be a part of this school: it’s magic to watch skills build, voices find their pitch, and stories transform.

Thank you for letting me in on your journey. Now, let’s build the momentum, trust the mystery, and dive into the play!

Back to top


JEN MANUEL

JenManuel.jpgJen’s debut novel, The Heaviness of Things That Float, won the 2017 Ethel Wilson Prize for Fiction and was optioned for a television series. Jen has published short stories in PRISM internationalRoom Magazine, and The Fiddlehead. She’s been a Western Magazine Award Finalist for Fiction and in 2016 she was named a CBC Writer to Watch. She’s also published two children’s novels, Dressed to Play (2019), and Head to Head (2020). 

_____

Underneath my old writing self, prior to completing The Story Course (which at that point was called Story Is a State of Mind), was a shaky base of belief. After years of teaching children and adults, I knew that no amount of good intention results in growth if it is not underscored by a belief in yourself, a sense of self-efficacy. I needed a stronger belief that I could grow into a different writer, a better writer, one that loved the process while deftly handling the craft.

And then I completed The Story Course. It changed everything for me. It bridged ideas and practice so that I finally got to know why I was doing something, what I might try doing, and the process for how to do it.

Finally, I trusted my own writing.

The growth did not always come easy for me. Yes, I was excited and inspired by the valuable information and exercises found in The Story Course. But I felt resistance, too, and part of my growth as a writer was in learning to work past this resistance. I now love to encourage other writers in the Story Intensive who might, for example, resist freewriting. Because I get it. I get why some people refuse to truly embrace the process at first. I know how that inner tension arises each time they try it. But I also know what it feels like to come out the other side. Simply put, I could not have written or published the work I have without the practices that I first resisted in The Story Course. And now I take pleasure in sharing the experience, facilitating the process in others, offering insights and extra tips, pointing writers to additional resources to help them grow in this way.

Everybody’s writing deserves dedication. It is something to be honoured. If writers engage deeply with the Story Intensive experience, they will break through barriers. I know this. I’ve done this myself. I’ve seen this in others. It is a remarkable thing to be a part of.

Back to top


KRISTIN OFFILER

krisin.jpgKristin Offiler completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University in 2011, and went on to work as a freelance writer and then in communications for a top internet company.  She's currently working on her second novel. Her short fiction has appeared in the Waccamaw Journal and her non-fiction has been published on motherfigure.com. She’s a founding member of a vibrant online writing group and has taught The Story Intensive in the past. You can find her at kristinoffiler.com.

_____

Everyone knows that writing is a solitary act, but I’ve seen the real magic that happens when writers come together. I never underestimate the power of genuine, compassionate support and feedback in my own writing life, and I love fostering that for other writers, too. I don’t think there’s a single creative person in the world whose writing life can’t benefit from being part of an encouraging community.

I learned this firsthand as a student during the first Story Intensive back in 2012. After that, through the Story Course’s Facebook page, I met the members of my writing group, and we’ve workshopped regularly online since 2012 (and have gotten together in person twice!) Without this tight network of fellow writers, I’m not sure I would’ve been as productive over the years as I have been. Instead of getting caught in nets of self-doubt in the midst of a messy draft, I opt to share with my group and allow their support to buoy me back into my writing again and again.

What happens when you step out of the writing cave and gather around with other people doing the same kind of deep creative work? Profound understanding, for one. Writers tend to just get one another. It’s a joy and relief to sit with other writers (whether in person or virtually) and share your words, hear others’ experiences, and bond over a shared love of the written word.

And beyond that, sharing our work is a practice in vulnerability and empathy. We all hope to receive kind, constructive feedback from our readers, and also aim to give that back to our fellow writers. Imagine if all human interaction could be like that! I believe that most writers are essentially after the same thing with their work: we want to tell a great story, connect to our shared humanity, and better understand this experience of life. We may write in isolation, but there’s so much to be said for what happens when we plug into something larger than ourselves. I’m honored to nurture that space for you and your work, wherever you may be in your writing process.

Back to top


LINDSEY SMITH

Lindsey Smith is a writer living in Houston, Texas. She earned a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009 and has spent the intervening years dedicated to the craft of writing both fiction and creative non-fiction. In 2016, one of her short stories placed in the Little Bird Writing Contest and was selected for publication in The Little Bird Anthology Vol. 6. She is currently at work on her second novel. Find her at lindseynsmith.com.

_____

Iwas just a baby writer when I found The Story Course. I had written – or rather micromanaged into existence– two stories that I did not like, and I was actively looking for answers. In Paris Review interviews. On the thirtieth page of a Google search. In SEO-laden copy from strangers promising me a fiction writing formula that would rock my socks. I remember it vividly. All that angst and fear calcified inside of my body. All that compulsive clicking. Writing and then deleting everything I wrote. What I wanted was to know how people did it. How did everyone else will their stories into beautiful being? It was a case of looking for love in all the wrong places. 

But then I found The Story Course. When I slipped in my ear buds and pressed play on lesson one, something shifted. Sarah’s voice helped, I think. She was calm, knowing. And under her influence, I did my very first freewrite.

Freewriting changed everything. I unclenched my writing fist and started allowing for a little magic, a little mystery. Freewriting, for me, is the not-so-secret secret, the answer. It’s my meditation. It’s where I discover who I am and what obsesses me. It’s where all the juicy stuff comes from.

Sarah and her school demystified the act of writing for me, the very physical act of Being a Writing Writer. The Story Course and later The Story Intensive gave me a new family, a new language, and a new found respect for my subconscious mind. It helped me find and trust my own unique process for bringing stories into the world. That’s why I love this school and why it’s such an honor now to be part of the teaching staff.

I love helping to facilitate these big steps, these full-scale paradigm shifts, these creative ahas. I love dissolving the idea that as writers we need anyone else’s permission to do what we do. Most of all, I love the writers that I meet here. We’re all in this together!

Back to top


SIDURA LUDWIG

SiduraLudwig.jpgSidura Ludwig is a novelist and short story writer. Her collection of short fiction, You Are Not What We Expected, is published in Canada and the US by House of Anansi Press. Her novel, Holding My Breath was published by Key Porter Books (Canada), Shaye Areheart Books (US) and Tindal Street Fiction (UK) in 2007. She was a finalist for the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award as well as a runner-up in the Little Bird Short Story Contest judged by Edi Esuygan. She is currently an MFA candidate in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sidura lives in Thornhill with her husband and three children. You can find her at siduraludwig.com.

_____

Before I found Sarah Selecky Writing School, I was falling out of love with writing. Writing and I had had some very good times in the past. Successes and highlights. We had so much potential together. And then I was working on this manuscript and I realized there was no spark. I had no idea where writing and I were going together. If we even fit anymore.

And yet, being a writer was all I knew. At some point I came across Sarah’s website and a blog she wrote about how writers and their writing can sometimes seem like a relationship going through tough times. I thought, Yes! Someone understands! She promised that it didn’t have to be this way. That I could find a way to love writing again. And so I took the plunge.

The Story Course strips you down to the core of what it means to tell your story. It helps you access those parts of your writing gut that you may be too scared to mine. It was like someone holding my hand and gently taking me back into territory I already knew, but was now seeing through a different lens. I would go through the different lessons in the self-directed course and find myself sitting with my journal for hours and pages writing story after story. Discovering new characters. Rediscovering old ones. Becoming pleasantly surprised by my voice, which I thought I had lost. At the end of each writing session I felt the spark I had been missing before.

After completing the self-directed course, I became a student in the Story Course and the Story Intensive. The communities I found were invaluable to me. I have been challenged and supported in immeasurable ways. I have met incredible writing teachers who have shared their wisdom and experiences. Having a group that I was accountable to made all the difference as I worked towards finishing that first draft, or editing that story I thought was going no where. Through these writing communities I know longer felt alone – even when most of the time it was just me, my jumbled thoughts and a blank page.

I’m honoured to be a part of the SSWS faculty. Writing journeys are exhausting and confusing. You need to trust yourself that you have stories worth telling. I know how hard it can be to trust your voice, but I also know the exhilaration of pushing through and discovering stories you didn’t even realize you had to tell. It’s my pleasure to be starting your journey with you. Trust me, it’s worth taking.


Back to top


SONAL CHAMPSEE

Sonal_1.jpgSonal Champsee’s short fiction and essays have been published in anthologies and magazines such as The New Quarterly, Ricepaper, and Today’s Parent. She was a finalist for the Writer’s Union of Canada’s 2017 Emerging Writers Short Prose contest, and has had a play produced in Seattle. She served on the PRISM International Editorial Board for five years, and has been a creative writing instructor for Sarah Selecky’s Writing School since its inception. Sonal lives in Toronto and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC.

_____

When I first found my way back to writing, I took a prescriptivist approach. If only I could learn all the rules, I would be a writer. I went to workshops, I joined a writing group, I dutifully collected feedback, I learned some rules. I bought books on writing, I read some of them, I learned more rules. I collected writing advice, I tried and failed to follow it, and learned more rules. Eventually, I enrolled in an MFA program, and did more workshops and got more feedback and more writing advice and learned more rules.

The rules I’d learned helped me become a better writer. But they also paralyzed me. I would start a story and The Rules would be looming over my head, telling me that you can’t do this, and make sure about that, and don’t forget about the other thing, and are you sure you’re innovative and original enough? I was afraid that I would forget a rule and my story would suck. I was afraid that there were rules I didn’t know, but everyone else knew them, and so people would discover that I was a fraud. I was afraid that I wrote stupid and boring things.

And so I wouldn’t write. And then I was afraid that I wasn’t really a writer because I wasn’t writing. I was afraid that I was kidding myself.

(I’m still a little afraid I’m kidding myself. That never totally goes away.)

But what did change is realizing that The Rules aren’t commandments from some Writing Deity who will one day grant you a place in yes-you-are-legitimately-a-writer-land. The Rules are just rules. They can be broken. They exist to serve the writer’s intuition and imagination, not the other way around.

I love the Story Intensive because it’s one of the few writing programs that asks you to take the brave step of trusting yourself instead of the rules. I love being an Intensive teacher because I love talking through writing fears. I love encouraging writers to take creative risks. I love that moment of empathy with my writing students, where we are all a little bit afraid but discover that in this space we can be brave together.

Back to top


SUSAN CARPENTER

Susan-Carpenter.jpgSusan Carpenter has been nominated for the Howard O’Hagan Award, the Journey Prize, was a finalist in the Writer’s Union of Canada Short Prose Competition, and won Eden Mills Writer’s Festival Fringe Contest. Her YA novel and collection of short stories are ‘complete’ and looking for a publisher. By day, Susan works in the investment industry in Calgary. By night, she co-parents five sons in various stages of higher learning and moving out, and a chocolate lab that refuses to launch.

_____

Before Sarah’s course, I had stories published, completed a degree and a certificate in writing and still felt that I didn’t know the formula for success. I considered taking my MFA to get the rubber stamp of approval that says ‘you are a writer’. Then I discovered Sarah’s online world and put myself through creativity bootcamp. I discovered I was a writer in need of a reliable, repeatable method to wrangle my unruly muse without shackling it. And, I needed a supportive community of kindred spirits.

The Story Intensive feels like an MFA because it’s dedicated practice, access to master storytellers, feedback from instructors and peers, and a safe space for your art to grow. Sarah’s course changed the way I write, giving me the building blocks to consciously engage with my craft. It gives you permission to dream, then wakes you to transcribe those dreams. By giving our muse supportive boundaries, we become mindful through practice.

Instead of writing feeling like a wrestling match with my muse, it now feels like a restorative yoga practice. As a teacher, I’m here to keep you between the ditches on your pilgrimage along the Intensive’s carefully mapped out road. I’m here to say ‘strap on your seatbelt’ because this journey is transformative. Think of me as your partner in crime.

I’ve always loved the first draft. I enjoy the abandon of the freewrite because it’s heady and laden with possibilities like falling in love. I struggled with a longer term relationship with my writing because it involved work and compromise. Boring! But Sarah’s method helped me trick myself into working by letting myself play first. I’ve learned to help my inner romantic shape all that squishy first draft emotion into something more than the sum of its parts. In the Story Intensive, we are also more than the sum of our parts; we’re a team, a tribe.

I know you will come out the other end of this adventure like I did: dazed from all you learned, invigorated by the assignments and friendships, and more curious and confident in your partnership with your writing.

As a motivational side note, my final Intensive assignment won the Fringe Contest allowing me to read at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. And, Sarah’s daily prompts earned me the first runner up title in the Little Bird Stories Contest.

You’ve come to the right and the write place. You are a writer. Let’s practice dreamy mindfulness together. Your muse will thank you.

Back to top