Meet the Teaching Artist: Fiction Technique in Memoir with Michelle Kicherer
by Writing Workshops Staff
8 months ago
We want to introduce you to Michelle Kicherer, an esteemed arts journalist, writing coach, and instructor, whose passion lies at the intersection of fiction and memoir. With a profound understanding of storytelling, Michelle is teaching a new class titled Fiction Technique in Memoir at WritingWorkshops.com, and has been one of our most popular teachers the last few years.
Drawing on her extensive experience interviewing renowned writers and having her work published across the United States and Canada, Michelle brings a wealth of knowledge to her students. Embracing an inclusive and supportive approach, she firmly believes that there are no dumb questions in the classroom, only pretentious teachers.
In her 8-week Zoom workshop, Michelle will focus on techniques for crafting compelling story arcs, developing memorable characters, and writing impactful scenes. By leveraging storytelling and structural tools used in fiction writing, participants will have the opportunity to dissect and learn from the work of notable memoirists and nonfiction authors.
Michelle's class offers invaluable guidance, providing writers with the opportunity to workshop excerpts from their own memoirs and gain insights from both their instructor and peers. It's a journey of creative growth and skill development that promises to empower aspiring memoirists in honing their craft under Michelle's expert guidance.
Hi, Michelle. Please introduce yourself to our audience.
The best thing a student ever said to me was something like: It is so clear that you love talking about writing. And it’s true, I really love nerding out on this stuff.
After working as a nutritionist in a mental health setting for several years, the thing that soon interested me the most was not the clients’ relationship with food or their dietary habits, but their relationship with the world and with themselves. Their lives and perspectives and motivations were shaped by traumas and colorful experiences; there was an incredible power when in sharing those stories with their peers, their communities.
Ten years ago I left mental health, pursued an MFA in writing and began interviewing authors and artists about their stories and writing practices. I cowrite and ghostwrote memoirs and soon started teaching writing classes on the the art of applying fiction writing techniques to memoir.
I am a freelance journalist for outlets like the SF Chronicle and Willamette Week, where I regularly interview some of the world’s favorite writers. I am honored to teach writing classes, where we bring together what I call the trifecta of a successful writing space: curiosity, humor and empathy. I believe that there are no such things as stupid questions, only pretentious instructors.
What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft? Or is this just your jam and you love it?
At my core, I’m a fiction writer. I love weaving a good tale and finding the most interesting way of saying something. What’s exciting to me about “Fiction Technique in Memoir” is that we apply some of the same things that fiction writers do to our own true stories so that writers can craft memoirs that read like novels.
Often in the early stages of memoir writing, where writers are still trying to figure out what story they actually want to tell, the fundamental storytelling aspects can fall to the wayside. In this class we look for the most compelling and moving parts of the writers’ story, then look for the most interesting way to tell it.
Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?
This is a craft class, meaning that as we read several full-length books, as well as a couple short stories or essays, we’ll dissect what the writer is doing and how they’re doing it so we can pull some of those same techniques into our own writing. Writers will have two opportunities to workshop excerpts of their work, as well as to talk it out a bit in class.
My favorite part of this class is seeing those “ah ha” moments. It’s SO fulfilling when a student is like, I didn’t even know that that’s what this story was about until I started writing about it and talking it out.” Those moments are incredible: to unveil the heart of what you wanted to write about and to take inspiration from some of the best memoirs out there, while maintaining your own unique voice. I can’t tell you how many times I get goosebumps in these classes.
What was your first literary crush?
First? I guess JD Salinger, because I loved his dialogue. But my first true literary love was George Saunders. What a pure soul and an incredible, funny storyteller with something to say. And while I’m nerding out, I have to say Ottessa Moshfegh, for showing me that it’s okay to get dark, to get raw, to get gross, to get real. She’s been a huge inspiration and motivation to me.
What are you currently reading?
So much! Just finished Lisa Taddeos’ Three Women and loved nerding out on how she captures stories through intensive interviews. Huge inspiration to me. Also just finished Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill, and The Guest by Emma Cline. Just started an advance reader’s copy of Andrew Leland’s The Country of the Blind, a warm and funny memoir about the experience of being – and going – blind.
How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?
Good question. It’s usually something that I can’t stop thinking about, or that shows up repeatedly. I’ll gravitate toward the topic, start reading related materials. I tend to write about the same topic for a while until I’ve exhausted the subject, that is to say: until I’ve understood this part of myself and gotten it into storytelling form. Despite a lot of heavy topics showing, there’s always an element of humor in my work, so if I’m not amused by the story’s milieu I tend to get bored and set it aside.
Where do you find inspiration?
Talking to my dogs. Going for long drives and either singing or crying. But really, living. Experiencing new things, or putting myself into uncomfortable situations where, inevitably, I know I’ll be able to write about it at some point. And, of course, reading great writing.
What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?
A writing professor once told me that “a novel is just a series of scenes.” That always helped me to not be so intimidated by starting (and inevitably, finishing) writing a novel or longer work. You can think about most books like a movie storyboard: each chapter/section/scene is visible and engaging and flows into the next. You want readers to be able “watch” what’s happening on the page, and as a writer, you have to think about how each scene interacts with the others. Oh god, writing is so fun and so awful and daunting and wonderful all at the same time.
What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?
George Saunders’ A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, hands down. It’s got that funny-meets-kind tone of Saunders’ voice, alongside real and tangible writing advice. He describes it as a master class, in which you read four different Russian short stories within the text, dissecting it with Saunders and getting “assignments” along the way. It’s a massive and beautiful and inspiring book.
Bonus question: What’s your teaching vibe?
Even though we’re getting down on some serious writing business in my classes, we’re also having fun. I have a hard time not making jokes in some way or another, and you’ll see I gravitate toward heavy stories that have a sense of humor to help bring a little levity to the gravity. Ultimately, I want students to feel glad to be in class, to enjoy the experience and to feel inspired during and after our sessions to keep reading and writing.
Learn More About Working with Michelle:
You can learn more about Michelle's upcoming workshop, Fiction Technique in Memoir, and sign up now!
Instructor Michelle Kicherer is an arts journalist, writing coach and instructor specializing in fiction and memoir. Michelle regularly interviews some of the world’s favorite writers and her work has been published in outlets throughout the United States and Canada. Michelle believes that there are no dumb questions in the classroom, only pretentious teachers. Learn more about her here.