The Middle Ground: Creating Fiction from Your Life Stories
with Susan Conley

This workshop will mine your own life experiences using a full menu of writing prompts that guide you from the land of autobiography into fiction. Participants will be encouraged to subvert their own voices and bring new ones to life using tools of the craft: dialogue, character development, narrative voice, the weaving of multiple plot lines, and pacing.

Colm Toibin, the great Irish fiction writer, recently said in a New York Times essay that, “If I made up a mother and put her in another town, a town I had never seen, I wouldn’t bother working at all… If I had to stick to the facts, the bare truth of things, that would be no use either…” So how do we turn our past into a springboard for compelling and enlivened stories?

This workshop will probe the middle ground between the facts your life presents to you and the made up stuff that lives in your imagination. The workshop will include prompt writing that strives to arrive at emotional breakthroughs in your work—moments when you really know your characters and can render their autonomous voices fully on the page, signaling your trust in these new people you’ve created. You’ll leave the workshop with a greater understanding of the mechanisms of story—better equipped to create emotionally transcendent fiction.

+ SUBMIT After registering, participants are asked to submit a manuscript (a short story or novel excerpt) of up to 1, 500 words by no later than 9:00 AM on October 8. Please email the manuscript to with the subject line: “CONLEY WORKSHOP MSS.” *Word docs (ideally) or PDFs only, please.

ConleySusan Conley’s new novel Elsey Come Home (Knopf 2019) delves into the darkest corners of addiction, marriage, and motherhood. Her debut novel Paris Was the Place (Knopf 2013) traces the intersection of the lives of an American poetry teacher and six teenage refugee girls in Paris during the late 1980’s. Her memoir, The Foremost Good Fortune (Knopf 2011), follows the years her family lived in Beijing and encountered cancer—it won the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Memoir. Her poetry collection was a finalist for the Walt Whitman Award. She’s received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Breadloaf Writers Conference, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. She’s on the faculty at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program and also teaches at Colby College. She’s the co-founder of The Telling Room, a nonprofit creative writing lab in Portland that believes children are natural storytellers who deserve an audience.