Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop: BookCourt Series

Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop (SSWW): BookCourt Series
BookCourt, Brooklyn, NY
October 25, 7:00 p.m.
Authors: Julia Fierro, Anthony Breznican, Natalie Harnett, Nicole Kear, Helen Wan
More information here

National Novel Writing Month will fly by in a flurry of keystrokes, as writers around the country look to beat the clock on finishing a masterwork within November’s 30 days. Julia Fierro has played a part in getting NYC’s aspiring novelists ready for such an undertaking, as founder of The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. Her own first novel, Cutting Teeth, debuted this May. This past weekend, Fierro worked with St. Martin’s Press to bring four other new novelists to BookCourt in Brooklyn to read from their debuts. And all adhered to variations of that old advice: “Write what you know.”

Helen Wan harnessed her first post-law school experience as a corporate lawyer to help build the similarly Chinese-American character of “Ingrid Yung” in The Partner Track. While Wan left after a year to go into entertainment law (becoming an associate general counsel), Yung sticks around at a white male-dominated old corporate firm for eight years—long enough to “pass” as one of the boys, and compete for a shot at making partner. Yet on the walk to meet an important client whose satisfaction will guarantee her assent, Yung is hit with the slur “fucking chink” by a midtown Manhattan street vendor that sets off a confrontation. In her reading, Wan narrated the passage where Yung puts the misogynist bigot in his place ... and makes an impression on her client. Anthony Breznican’s reading from Brutal Youth featured a nun desperately choosing between the words “penis,” “pecker,” “wang,” and “cock” to save the reputation of one of her students at a Catholic school not unlike one the author attended in his suburban Pittsburgh youth. Today, a senior staff writer for Entertainment Weekly, Breznican’s debut is a dark coming-of-age story inspired by that Catholic school experience—though he noted, “not nearly as severe.” The brutality of his title refers in part to “sanctioned hazing” among students, which Breznican described as “something that would be fun and games, allegedly, in the minds of adults. But when they weren’t looking, it was something a lot worse.” Things are downright hellish across the state in the tiny anthracite coal-mining town of Centralia. An underground mine fire has driven the population away. Further north in Carbondale, a similar fire was literally dug out of the ground, but at the price of more earth moved than in the Panama Canal’s construction. Natalie Harnett excavated those catastrophes for The Hollow Ground, and read from the prologue set in 1961, told from the perspective of a girl named Brigid—the name’s symbology stretching back to the Celtic goddess of fire associated with forges and hearths. Homes in Brigid’s blighted town of “Centrereach” feature “basement floors too hot to touch, steaming green lawns in the dead of winter, sinkholes quick and sudden plunging open at your feet.” Of the plight of Pennsylvania townspeople who inspired her characters, Harnett told event attendees, “It’s an amazing story of what people can live through.” Such is the sentiment of Nicole Kear’s memoir, Now I See You. Diagnosed at age 19 with a degenerative eye condition, retinitis pigmentosa, she faced going blind by her early 30s. Yet Kear’s written take on the following decade is a comedic one and includes earning a red nose from the Circus Center San Francisco. Kear decidedly “didn’t come to terms” with her condition for the first 90% of her narrative, actively avoiding blind people who could have given incite into her future condition. Kear’s reading though recounted her first of many eventual visits to a support group for the visually impaired. And live readings like this one are a valuable resource for those seeking inspiration and moral support from newly published novelists in getting through those long nights of manuscript writing this November.

Christian Niedan
Nomadic Press
Niedan is a New York City-based writer and television producer. He is the creator and manager of a film website called Camera In The Sun, which looks at how people think of the places and cultures they see on screen.