University of Iowa

Lon Otto

Lon Otto (Ph.D., Indiana University) published his third collection of stories in fall 2015—A Man in Trouble, from Brighthorse Books. His previously published books are A Nest of Hooks (University of Iowa Press), winner of the Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction; Cover Me (Coffee House Press); and the craft e-book Grit: Bringing Physical Reality into Imaginative Writing (Writers Workshop Press). His writing in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry appears in many anthologies, including The Pushcart Prize (Pushcart Press), American Fiction (New Rivers Press), Flash Fiction and Flash Fiction Forward (W.W. Norton), Townships (University of Iowa Press), and Not Normal, Illinois (Indiana University Press), and in the craft text Best Words, Best Order (St. Martin’s Press). Several of his stories have been broadcast on NPR’s Selected Shorts. He is professor emeritus at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he taught literature and writing for many years.

Instructor Events

One of the most effective ways of developing a story, poem, or essay is to work in layers of different narrative or thematic material. When the layers come from different realms of experience or thought (such as history, folk tales, work, religion, science, food, art, childhood memories), or when they carry different emotional charges, they complicate each other in unexpected ways.

Whether writing fiction or narrative nonfiction, you bring to the workbench a wealth of resources—your life experience, reading, language, personality, and imagination. This workshop focuses on writing tools necessary for transforming those resources into either fiction or a nonfiction narrative such as memoir or literary journalism. The cross-over of these techniques between fiction and nonfiction will be a prevailing theme as we examine strong examples in published writing.

Characterization—creating believable and interesting people on the page—is an absolutely essential part of successful fiction writing, and it is equally important to narrative nonfiction forms such as memoir or literary journalism. It is also one of the most complex elements of craft, with many different means of achieving it and quite a few ways in which it can fall short.