Winter Workshop Craft: Jon Raymond



As we continue to take applications (Deadline is December 17th!) for our upcoming fiction and nonfiction winter workshops, we thought we would check in with a few of our faculty to get a perspective on their own history inside the classroom.

Next in the water, Jon Raymond.


Tin House: What can you tell us about your first workshop experience as a participant?

Jon Raymond:The first workshop I ever took was taught by none other than current Tin House author Darcey Steinke. It was a great class. She helped me figure out some things about my first novel that probably saved me a lot of time and internal strife, i.e. don’t try and write half your book in antique, ersatz Jamesian prose. She also turned me on to some craft writing that I still use in my own classes, specifically the essay “Stillness,” by Charles Baxter.

TH: What is the best piece of advice you have received or heard given in workshop?

JR: I don’t remember most of my workshops as a student anymore, so I’ll have to make recourse to my own recent excellent advice: when writing a nonfiction biography about a real-life horse, be open to speculating about said horse’s inner emotional life.

TH:Your strangest, most terrifying workshop experience as a participant/instructor?

JR: I haven’t had anything too notably lurid happen in my workshops, unfortunately. No nudity or mental collapses or fisticuffs or anything like that. I recently traveled to Amman, Jordan to do some screenwriting workshops, and that was kind of strange. To be talking about the story arc of Castaway while staring at a slummy hilltop neighborhood that began as a Palestinian refugee camp, that was kind of strange. US military planes flying overhead; prayer calls; Palestinian film directors orchestrating Oscar campaigns, all strange.

TH: Is there a book of craft you find yourself going back to time and again?

JR: One great piece of craft writing that recently passed under my eyeballs was an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin. It was about an often misunderstood mental phenomenon called imagination. Here’s a good sentence or two from it: “The job of the imagination, in making a story from experience, may be not to gussy the story up but to tone it down. The fact is, the world is unbelievably strange and human behavior is frequently so weird that no kind of narrative except farce or satire can handle it. The function of the storyteller’s imagination sometimes is simply to make it more plausible.” (Ursula K. Le Guin “Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?”)


Jon Raymond is the author of the novels Rain Dragon, The Half-Life, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2004, and the short story collection Livability, winner of the 2009 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction. He is the writer of several films, including Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff, and cowriter of the Emmy-nominated screenplay for the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce. Raymond’s writing has appeared in Bookforum, Artforum, Tin House, the Village Voice, and other publications.