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How about those Resolutions?

how to form a habit infographic

Here are mine: My non-writing related New Year’s resolutions are: to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day, to not eat after 8pm and to do pilates on Fridays. So far I have been doing so/so with them. Sometimes I mess up. (Actually ALL of the time) Do you remember that one episode from the Office where Pam makes everyone keep track of their New Year’s resolutions on a wheel and everybody tries to find creative ways to avoid her because everyone gave up on theirs?  This is so me.

The good news is you can make and remake New Years’ resolutions any time of the year.  In June of 2014 I made my most successful resolution to date and I made it mid-year.


I resolved to get invited to feature at more readings.  


It seemed after years of working several simultaneous teaching jobs at local colleges and universities, working with 90 students in a semester, I was too busy to participate in the burgeoning literary scene around me. When I finally was able to poke my head above water, I applied once or twice a year to be a “featured reader” at various readings and festivals and everybody I asked said no to me. This happened to me for years and eventually I gave up. It was quite demoralizing.

While drinking coffee in the morning on a random day in June, I made a pact with myself. I resolved to be featured at or host a reading every month for the next 12 months.  I was going to try harder. I would treat it like a job. I was going to put myself out there and if nobody asked me or allowed me to read in their reading series, I would host my own. I made a promise to myself to read or host every month for the entire year. 

I believe I’ve hosted four Write from the Gut! readings during that time and three Greek American Writers’ Nights, and three At The Inkwells in San Francisco.  
From summer 2014 until now, I was the featured reader at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York. Locally, I was a featured reader at Passages on the Lake at the Terrace Room in Oakland, at Frank Bette Center for the Arts in Alameda, Get Lit, Generations in Berkeley, Why There Are Words in Sausalito, Crows in the Stork’s Nest in Oakland, Liminal in Oakland, Rolling Writers in San Francisco. A few of these were things I initiated. A few of the curators asked me on their own. 
Last May, I was accepted to be one of 25 storytellers to tweet a story live to viewers around the world as part of the Twitter Fiction Festival. It was so much fun. 
Also in 2015 I was approached by Monique Antonette Lewis, founder of At the Inkwell in New York, who asked me to be her San Francisco curator. I accepted. Our next At the Inkwell is coming up this coming Monday at Alley Cat Books in the Mission. 

I’m reading as a featured reader next month at two series—Deviance, A Feminist Showcase at Liminal, and Lyrics and Dirges at Pegasus Books in Berkeley.

Achievement unlocked!

I may have failed at all my other resolutions, but that one stuck and it wasn’t even made in January. It just goes to show you that you can make New Year’s resolutions any time. 
So, what are your Creative Writing goals for 2016? My advice is to pick one and work on it every month a little bit at a time and keep it playful. Set small goals for yourself that are consistent.  For me, getting into all those readings was symbolic. It was a way I could be accepted when in the past I had been excluded.  Achieving this acceptance in the literary community at large helped me let something go—a fiction that I didn’t even realize I was telling myself. I was harboring a belief that maybe there was something wrong with me. Maybe everybody knew it except for me. Maybe I didn’t deserve to be included. I was letting my past limit present and predict my future.  Now, when I go to arts events, I move  through the crowd with a bit more swagger because I know that I have something to offer. I built my circle around myself from the supportive people I found along the way here and there, and I tried to ignore the exclusives, the copycats and the Debbie Downers, and the haters. 
This year my New Year’s resolution is to Make Art Sustainable. 

I am making it broad so I have the most chance of success.  There are many ways this can happen. 

I resolve to try to make creative writing sustainable for myself, for the teachers who work for SF Creative Writing Institute, for our clients, and for the community of artists in the Bay Area, and for the underserved. I know this is hard. I know that everything we are doing is an experiment and that it may not work. I have seen the best collaborations come to an end due to financial constraints. I know it may not work. But I hope that it does.

We’ve got a great lineup of classes and programming this Winter and forming in Spring. I am so thrilled to work with Hollie Hardy and Nick Mamatas who are both gems and are impressive in their own right.

SF Creative Writing Institute is committed to paying fair wages to our teachers so that we can keep more writers in the Bay Area. When you sign up for one of our classes, you are doing the good work of keeping a writer—who is a seasoned professor, and/or professional editor fed.  If for any reason we are not able to pay a fair wage, I’ve told the teachers, please tell me and we will disband.  (Nick Mamatas promised to tell me this over roast beef and mashed potatoes at Lefty O’Doul’s in November, so he can hold me accountable.) I have no assurance that we will actually sustain ourselves. But, I know we are on the right track.

When you enroll in one of our classes, you are also plugging into a network of emerging and established literary talent (both in our teachers and students). You are aligning yourself with people-in-the-know who can help to sustain you on your creative journey.  

We strive to be a supportive, nurturing, yet challenging environment where anyone can belong in order to create and craft their writing. 

Thank you for reading, gentle writer. Good luck to you this year.

Welcome to 2016!

Alexandra Kostoulas,
Founder & Executive Director
SF Creative Writing Institute


Good News for Fabulist Fiction Instructor, Nick Mamatas

Nick Mamatas’s most recent book, THE LAST WEEKEND,

got rave reviews in the San

Nick Mamatas Writefromthegut 9
Nick Mamatas reading at Write From the Gut! #9 Photo by: Zoe Christopher

Francisco Chronicle. The reviewer compared his work to  Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson,  H.P. Lovecraft, Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, John Fante.

Nick Mamatas has also been short-listed along with co-editor Masumi Washington for a This is Horror Award for their anthology, Hanzai Japan: Fantastical, Futuristic Stories of Crime From and About Japan.
Read the review in the SF Chronicle.
Grab your copy of THE LAST WEEKEND.

Good News for Sunday Poetry Workshop Instructor,

Hollie Hardy

Hollie Hardy reading from Write from the Gut #9! Photo: Zoe Christopher

We’ve just learned that Hollie Hardy’s book HOW TO TAKE A BULLET, AND OTHER SURVIVAL POEMS has won the annual Poetry Center Book Award at San Francisco State University!


From their website: The Poetry Center Book Award has been presented annually since 1980 by The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University, to a single outstanding book of poetry published in the previous year. The Poetry Center Book Award carries a cash prize and an invitation to read, along with the award judge, at The Poetry Center in San Francisco.


Good News for San Francisco Creative Writing Institute

We got our first grant!
We have been offered to take over the programing for Central Market Now at SAFEhouse Arts and we said yes! We will start in April.
Stay tuned for more info and how you can get involved!

Winter 2016 Classes Start Next Week

To learn more about a class, or  to sign up, click on the pictures or sign up button


Jack Grapes’ Method Writing Program

Instructor: Alexandra Kostoulas


Jan 28-Mar 17, 2016 * 6:00-9:00pm
8 Sessions
Cost: $425
Fun fact: In April, Alexandra will have been teaching this class for four years. It has moved from various locations to its new home at SF Creative Writing Institute which she founded in April, 2015. This year marks her 13th year of teaching in total. She has taught at Academy of Art University, Golden Gate University, Berkeley City College, and elsewhere.
Students of Method Writing range from professional writers to beginners to everything in between. Space is limited. Still a few seats left.

Sunday Poetry Workshop

Instructor: Hollie Hardy
Jan 31-Mar 20, 2016 * 2:00-5:00 pm
8 Sessions
Cost: $395
Fun Fact: This is the second time we are offering this inspiring class. Hollie Hardy is an amazing and beloved professor at Berkeley City College and San Francisco State University. She has an MFA in poetry from SFSU.  Her reading series Saturday Night Special in the East Bay has a huge following.  This class is filling up fast. Reserve your space before it fills!


Fabulist Fiction

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mysteries, Young Adult, Magical Realism, Chick Lit & More.

Instructor: Nick Mamatas
Feb 20-Mar 26, 2016 * 2:00-5:00pm
6 Sessions
Cost: $395
Fun Fact: Nick Mamatas works by day as an editor at Viz Media. a Japanese-American manga, anime and entertainment company located in the Twitter building in San Francisco. He has published over 100 short stories and seven novels. One of his main editorial clients at Viz media is Hayao Miyazaki. He is the president of the Mystery Writers of America NorCal chapter. There are still a few spaces left in Nick’s class. You can reserve your spot now



At The Inkwell: Genre NightUnknown
Monday, January 25, 2016.
Alley Cat Books. 3036 24th St
San Francisco, California 94110
NICK MAMATAS                                                        12369104_1034613033268321_5154604624810202757_n
Saturday Night Special,
Saturday January 30, 2016

an East Bay open mic.

3218 Adeline St, Berkeley, California 94703

Features: Lisa Martinovic and Freddy Gutierrez

First come first served. Sign-up starts at 7pm and closes when it fills up or when the reading starts, so get there early if you want to read! (Note: Sometimes the list is full by 7:03pm)

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San Francisco Creative Writing Institute
25 Taylor Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
    (415)  371-9054
Which is why you need the tiniest bit of bravery. People get scared when you try to do something, especially when it looks like you are succeeding.  People do not get scared when you’re failing. It calms them.

—Mindy Kaling

Creativity Takes Courage
—Henri Matisse
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Reframing Technique

Getting Ready to Do the Best Work of Your Life

-Alexandra Kostoulas


In 2009 I went to visit a writer friend of mine who was dying in the hospital.

She had notes to herself written on her white board.

One of them read:  No more negative self-talk.

I saw it and completely understood what she meant.

Recently I have been noticing other writers using negative self-talk.

I asked a friend and fellow writer to write for a neighborhood newspaper I am starting up. She refused. Not because she was too busy, but, she told me that she wasn’t good at meeting deadlines, and she didn’t want to let me down. I asked another friend to help me run a large artistic project I am working on. He said, “I don’t think I would be right for that. You need a writer who is more well known. Nobody knows who I am.”

In both cases I was the person in charge of the project and I was the one asking. I thought they were good enough. In fact, they would have been great!  I asked another friend to take over the planning for a writers’ night. He looked down and said, “I’m not very good at organizing,”

When I was working full time as a professor, I taught a class at UC Berkeley in Critical Thinking. We read Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” All the students pretended to understand the text and looked confident when I asked them if they had any questions. When it came time for discussion, they were silent. One of my students was a woman in her fifties from city college who was living in a group home after recovering from being homeless. She cried out, “This is so damn hard. I am so stupid. I am a cave dweller. I AM LIVING IN THE CAVE.”

If you have ever read Plato’s allegory of the cave, you will realize that that is the point. We are all in the cave looking at shadows on the wall thinking that it’s real, when there is a whole reality going on outside the cave that we can at times, collectively, distort and choose to ignore.  She was the only person in the class who understood the actual readings and she didn’t even realize it!

Why am I noticing this all of a sudden? It’s as if every writer I am interacting with the last few months has put him or herself down. Myself included.

Negative self-talk is bad because it tells a fiction about who we really are and it limits who we can become.  This is especially damaging for fledgling writers.


I was not the favorite writer in my MFA program. Most of the things I wrote in graduate school were failed experiments. I was so afraid to get my work critiqued, because I thought I would cry during my classmates’ comments.  Another writer in the program took me aside and told me that she felt that way too. She said the best way to combat it was to wear Prada.  Another woman in the program overheard and seconded the idea that designer fashion was the way to overcome a harsh critique. I was 24 and bought all my clothes from Ross. I had no idea what Prada was or how to get ahold of it.  She called Prada her “personal armor.” I asked her if I could get Prada at Ross she laughed knowingly. I shivered into myself and did some more negative self-talk because I felt stupid that I didn’t know what Prada was or how to get it if my life depended on it.


The advice I’m about to give you is better than any fancy clothing item.

I call it reframing technique. 

The reason I get so mad at people who put themselves down aloud is because I do it, too.

I get down on myself all the time for not really writing. For having these large projects I want to work on like a novel.  I get down on myself for thinking that I have to stop to do Thanksgiving dinner or to clean, or visit with people, and this will put me even farther from my goal of writing. Then I felt bad for going online and reading stupid articles and then also for spending too much time on social media.  I went to my desk to work on my novel. I sat there for hours and I did absolutely nothing. I mean, I did write three pages in my journal, but it was not very literary it was just writing like I talked.  It was a list of all the people who annoyed me in my day. I wrote it when I ordered lunch.

Now, I am drinking tea. As I poured half and half into my earl grey and swirled some sugar around, an idea came to me:

Maybe I am just resting.

As artists, we have to take care of ourselves. We have to love ourselves in some way. We have to rest. It’s part of the process.

I reframed my thinking to the following thought:

Maybe I am getting ready to write the best work of my life.

Then I cut off the maybe.

I am getting ready to write the best work of my life.

I am resting and cleaning my home and being lazy in the afternoon and eating healthy, good food because I am getting ready to write the best work of my life.

I am socializing with my friends on another day because it’s good for me and I need to see other people and feed that part of myself so that I don’t feel lonely when I sit down to write.

Reframing is different than making excuses. We all do that. Reframing is always positive.

Before an anxious thought can creep in and tell me well, you know you’re not really writing. You are editing.


I can rewrite the thought to say:


I am editing. I am clearing a space for myself because I am getting ready to write the best work of my life.  I am reading books I like. I am eating healthy food that tastes good. I am taking care of myself on a Sunday by winding down and relaxing because I am preparing the do the best work of my life whether it is writing, editing, proofreading, staring into space and thinking, but it will all be in service of this great crazy craft and calling I am compelled to do. Writing and the writing process calls me back to it year after year. Making marks on the page, trying to express some kind of meaning, resting, letting it sit and then circling back to approach it again with a cup of tea are all part of my artistic process.


I am getting ready to do the best work of my life.


When I reframe it this way, it makes sense.


Doing the kind of writing that requires our full attention means that we have to have focus. We have to treat ourselves like thoroughbred horses or Olympic athletes when we produce great writing. So, be kind to yourself in whatever small way it takes.


Believe in yourself.  Then, get back to work. The slow turtle wins the race and you can’t be the slow turtle if you are having a perfect experience every time you sit down to write. And you can’t write if you are too tired, not well fed, don’t have a quiet mind. Who could?


A fine wine takes time to mature. So does writing. There is no rush. Enjoy the process. Eat some chocolate, pour yourself a cup of tea, put on your cozy sweats and go slow.


Are you coming to our Reading on Sunday? We hope So!


Write from the Gut #10

Sunday, December 6, 2015Cool Old Mic

from 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM (PST) SAFEhouse ARTS – 
1 Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

You are cordially invited to our end-of-term reading, featuring works-in-progress by the Fall students of the SF Creative Writing Institute.

Can you believe it’s our tenth Write from the Gut  already?

Featured readers will be students of the

Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING Program

Poetry Workshop

Fabulist Fiction

with Special Guest: Chiwan Choi (who is traveling out from the East Coast to read with us. We’re so excited for you to meet him!) 

12063324_10206274179146385_7233399693131194067_nCHIWAN CHOI is an editor and author of the poetry collections, Abductions and The Flood. In his early years as a writer, he was a student of Jack Grapes. He went on to get an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. He has written screenplays, a novel, and poetry. He is a literary firebrand and luminary most recently known for his role as and publisher of Writ Large Press in Los Angeles.

View and Share our event on FB here !

More Good News!

UnknownAt the Inkwell Reading Series has been made a permanent series at Alley Cat Books. We are thrilled.

Come to Alley Cat Books in

Poets from At the Inkwell’s Nov. 16th Reading

the Mission for the next in our upcoming series curated by Alexandra Kostoulas. At the Inkwell is a reading series founded in New York by Monique Antoinette Lewis.

We are taking December off, but starting in January 2016, we will be having monthly readings. Our next reading will be on January 25th 2016 @ 7pm. The theme will be: Genre Fiction. These readings will feature published fiction, memoir and poets with alternating themes on various months. Stay tuned for more info.                                                                                           Learn More

We are honored to host Lucy Silag, the director of Book Country, who will be flying out from NYC to offer a very special seminar in February 2016.


Your Next Step as a Writer

Standing out in the crowded literary marketplace is overwhelming, with writers juggling advice about craft, MFAs, agents, publishers, self-publishing, social media, building a platform, and more.
Facilitated by Lucy Silag of Book Country (an online writing community owned by Penguin Random House), this workshop is designed to help writers figure out the next step toward reaching their writing and publishing goals. Each participant will leave with a customized, immediate, and actionable plan for their book or work-in-progress based on where they are in the writing process. Materials will be provided.

Winter 2016 Classes & Seminars

Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING ProgramWrite from the Gut!!!!
Instructor: Alexandra Kostoulas
Jan 28-Mar 17, 2016 * 6:00-9:00pm
Cost: $425





Sunday Poetry Workshop
Instructor: Hollie Hardy
Jan 31-Mar 20, 2016 * 2:00-5:00 pm
Cost: $395


Fabulist Fiction
Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mysteries, Young Adult, Magical Realism, Chick Lit & More.
Instructor: Nick Mamatas

Feb 20-Mar 26, 2016 * 2:00-5:00pm

Cost: $395


Your Next Step as a Writer 
Book Country + Penguin Random House
Instructor: Lucy Silag
////Evening Seminar////
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
6:00-8:00pm * Free

Show us some love…


We are now on YELP. If you have taken classes from us and you like what you have learned, please review us here. Please list the name of the class, the instructor and tell what you loved.
If there is something we can improve on, don’t hesitate to drop us a line and let us know by emailing:

Donations gratefully accepted

If you would like to donate to SF Creative Writing Institute,
your donations are fully tax deductible. To make a donation, you can send a check made out to SAFEhouse Arts, (our fiscal sponsor). Please write SF Creative Writing Institute in the memo line. Donations are accepted year round. Send the check to SAFEhouse ARTS. 1 Grove Street. San Francisco, CA 94102.  Donations will go toward funding our ongoing and new programs.


San Francisco Creative Writing Institute
                                   25 Taylor Street                                   
     San Francisco, CA 94102

When we decide to live each instant fully, with all our might, to live true to ourselves and make the present moment shine, we discover and bring forth immense and unimagined strength.

—Daisaku Ikeda

Easy reading is damn hard writing.
—Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Fall 2015 Newsletter

How does time away affect your writing?


Sometimes getting outside your reality may help you write better.

I took time off from editing my novel manuscript for a few months this spring in order to let it breathe.   I started working on other projects during this time, mostly poetry and a bit of personal essay. I had hit a point where I stopped being able to see new avenues through the work and when summer came I jumped back into the project.

Well, first off, I learned that taking time off can give you new perspective. Taking a break from your manuscript can help you see it with fresh eyes.  Leaving your routine, if you get a chance to, can be a blessing in disguise. I was really not expecting to make any artistic breakthroughs, but I plodded along any way. By the end of July, I started to see the work with fresh eyes. I have been working on this book since time immemorial so seeing a new way to edit it was a minor miracle.

Everything is useful for an artist. Even taking breaks from projects can be a kind of creative crop rotation. As writers, we have to be really good at noticing things. Noticing them and then articulating them. Sometimes we have to become sponges absorbing everything and others, we have to find a way to take those experiences and get them out of our minds and onto the page.

As writers, it’s hard to know whether we’re doing it wrong. I was chatting online with my oldest and dearest writing friend, Chiwan Choi, and we were lamenting the state of the world, human frailty and the difficulty required in making good art. Why is it so hard even after many years of working at the craft?

This is the conclusion we came to:

We all have different ways we work. Each artist creates a way. We create a mold, then we pour the mold and we chisel it with the tools that we also make. It’s just hard discovering your method because we always think we’re doing it wrong. We’re all doing it wrong and we’re all doing it right.

That’s why it can be so hard to pursue the art and craft of creative writing because the guideposts are so nebulous, but writing classes can be a tool.

They can show you one way—the way that works for the teacher. The teacher can give the students a praxis to follow for the time that they are in the class and this can strengthen the student for the long slog when they are on their own. Maybe they can come back into the class to fine tune, or to reconnect with their allies. The creative writing community in its ideal form can be at best, an oasis— like a watering hole, and we—the weary wild animals who have come back to drink, rest or recover at its banks.

I’ve come to the conclusion that so much of writing is on your own that you need community in order to survive.

It’s important to have allies. Some of your greatest allies in writing will be your classmates.

We are lucky here at the SF Creative Writing Institute, because we have been creating community and people have been coming to us and finding that. And we are lucky because we are growing and we have so far survived in this tough economic situation that all arts organizations have found themselves in the Bay Area and we are living to fight another day. Read on about our upcoming events, classes and press.

© Alexandra Kostoulas


SF Creative Writing Institute

Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley was a smashing success.

IMG_3031On June 6-7th 2015 we had a booth at the Bay Area Book Festival in downtown Berkeley.  Thank you to all of the people who came by to visit our booth and to those of you who helped us man the booth. Also thank you to all the poets and prose writers who came down to read from your works-in-progress.

You made the weekend fun and brought life to our booth.
We also held a raffle. Prize winners will be announced at the end of this newsletter.

Over the summer, SF Creative Writing Institute was lucky to be featured on Frank Garza’s podcast,
San Francisco People.

Episode Summary: Alexandra Kostoulas is an award-winning writer who teaches creative writing in the City.  She’s been teaching the Jack Grapes’ Method Writing Program for a number of years.  This program helps students find what’s called their “Deep Voice” and she explains more about this on the show.  Alexandra has also recently launched the San Francisco Creative Writing Institute to teach even more creative writing methods.  This podcast is great for anyone who wants to write more but is struggling or having a hard time getting started.  Alexandra shares some tips by going through the routines, processes, and tools that have helped her become a better writer.  My favorite part of the interview, however, was when Alexandra talked about her own writing.  She tells me about the novel she’s finishing up, Persephone Stolen, and then does an on-air reading of one of her poems,  Los Angeles of my Youth.  I had read the poem before our interview and thought it was beautiful.  But hearing Alexandra give the backstory and read it from across the table has been one of my favorite podcast moments.

-Frank Garza, SF People Podcast

If you have some free time, have a listen.

Introducing Our Newest Instructor:

Hollie Hardy

Hollie HardyWe are so lucky to have Hollie Hardy join our team this fall to teach a Poetry Workshop on Sunday afternoons starting late September. Here is a little bit about her:   Hollie Hardy   can teach you how to survive anything. Her first collection of poetry, How to Take a Bullet, And Other Survival Poems has titles ruthlessly appropriated from The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook,and is available now from Punk Hostage Press (2014). She is an English instructor at Berkeley City College and seasonal lecturer at San Francisco State University, where she also received her Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry. An active participant in the local Bay Area literary scene, Hardy co-hosts the popular monthly reading series, Saturday Night Special, An East Bay Open Mic. She is a core producer and venue coordinator for the Beast Crawl Literary Festival in Oakland, curator of Litquake’s Flight of Poets, and a former Editor-in-Chief of Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review.

Q&A with Hollie Hardy:  

What kind of things do you cover in your course?   

We’ll use generative writing prompts to explore craft elements of poetry, such as imagery, metaphor, symbol, rhythm, word choice, repetition, and the line, and practice giving and receiving feedback to in order to sharpen and refine new work.

Is it more for experienced poets or can anybody take the class at any level?

All levels of writers are welcome! Whether you’re just curious about poetry and thought it might be fun to take a class, or you have an MFA in poetry and want some inspiration and feedback to energize your practice, this is the class for you! I will work to cultivate a safe space for beginners and to challenge experienced writers. My goal will be to meet all my students where they are.

What if I write slam poetry, spoken word, or traditional forms? Is there still a place for me in your course? 

All kinds of poetry styles are encouraged! I hope we will have a diversity of voices in the room, so we can learn from each other and even experiment with new ways of creating poems. Writing prompts will be designed to offer options and invite students to take risks.

What is something important to remember about writing?

Writing is a learned skill, and just like performing surgery, riding a motorcycle, or mastering the violin; it takes practice. Ray Bradbury reminds us, “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”

How did you get started as a writer?

For me, writing began with reading, with falling in love with books and wanting to write my own. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. Journals, stories, poetry, love notes, scathing essays, strongly worded letters. I had a poem published in the local newspaper when I was in first grade. I started taking my writing career seriously when I was accepted to the Creative Writing program at San Francisco State University in 2003, where I subsequently earned a BA in Creative Writing and an MFA in Poetry, and started publishing my work and organizing literary events. I also served as Poetry Editor and then Editor in Chief of Fourteen Hills, The SFSU Review for a couple of years, and learned about editing, publishing, layout, and design. My first book, How to Take a Bullet And Other Survival Poems was released on Punk Hostage Press in 2014.

How many years of experience do you have writing?  Teaching?  As a published writer? As an organizer of poets?

 I’ve been writing for 35 years, publishing for 10 years, teaching for 5 years, and organizing literary events for 7 years.

Can you talk about your experience organizing the Beast Crawl and how it’s helped you as a poet? 

Beast Crawl is a labor of love. For those who may not be familiar, Beast Crawl is Uptown Oakland’s annual free literary festival featuring more than 200 writers in a single night, in dozens of events, spread out over three hours and thirty-five local galleries, bars, restaurants, cafés, performance spaces, and storefronts. Since its inception in 2012, I have been a core producer of the festival. In addition to Beast Crawl, I also co-curate and co-host Saturday Night Special, An East Bay Open Mic, Litquake’s Flight of Poets, and numerous other events. I believe that by holding the space for other writers, I can help to shape a literary community that also nurtures my own identity as a writer and informs my work, not only by providing a platform to perform, practice, and play, but also by including a diversity of talented writers to broaden my own sense of the possible. In this way, I am constantly challenged and inspired.

Do you believe it is important for writers to have a day job? Why?

Yes, because even writers have to eat  🙂

What is your day job? How does it help you in your craft?

In addition to teaching poetry at the SF Creative Writing Institute, I also teach a combination of creative writing, journalism, and composition classes at San Francisco State University, Berkeley City College, and Community Works West. I also do technical writing and marketing for a construction company. For me, teaching is a joy, a learning experience, a constant challenge, and a mirror for self-reflection. My construction job provides stability and structure, a tether for the kite string of my creative life.

What are some of your greatest successes as a teacher?

My proudest moments are of inspiring students to exceed their own expectations, to reshape the boundaries of the possible to reflect a more generous truth about their capacity for greatness.


Writing The Literary Page Tuner on Thursday Nights starts next week

Instructor: Nick Mamatas


Exciting plots and larger-than-life characters are the cornerstones of popular fiction and the emphasis of this course. Whether you’re writing romance, mystery, science fiction, or suspense, the principles of writing popular fiction — interesting prose, characters with whom we can empathize, and a story that moves — are key.

In this course, we’ll workshop your short stories and novel chapters, explore the history of the genres, perform writing and idea-generating exercises, and discuss the magazines and publishers looking for your sort of fiction. The goal is to give you a solid grounding in the demands of popular fiction from an editorial point of view, and a better understanding of your favorite genres.

We are very lucky to have Nick Mamatas teaching with us for the second time!

“I personally took Nick’s class last time it was offered at the SF Creative Writing Institute and it was excellent.  Great place to get help with plot and a nurturing environment for genre writers. There aren’t many fiction writing workshops like this that help with plot, the market and popular fiction. Great place to get help on a novel-in-progress or start one.”  

Alexandra Kostoulas

Here’s a little bit more about him:

Nick Mamatas
Nick Mamatas

Nick Mamatas is the author of seven novels, over one hundred short stories, and dozens of essays and articles. His books include the novels Love is the Law and The Last Weekend, the short fiction collection The Nickronomicon, and the how-to guide for writing short fiction and non-fiction, Starve Better. Nick’s short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery StoriesAsimov’s Science FictionNew Haven Review, and many other anthologies and journals. He has written about writing for The Writer, Fine Books & Collections, and Wonderbook. His anthologies include the award-winning Haunted Legends (co-edited with Ellen Datlow) and The Future Is Japanese (co-edited with Masumi Washington.)

Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING starts next week. Wednesday Nights at 6:30.

Get your spot before it’s gone.

Write from the Gut!!!!

Instructor: Alexandra Kostoulas. 

As usual, we will still be offering Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING Program. This time only one section will be offered on Wednesday Nights.

Here is a run-down of the class.

The Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program

We want to connect with the world. We want to share the life that is inside us. We want to write poetry and prose that speaks the truth and moves the reader. But where do we start?

There’s a voice within all of us wanting to find its place in the world. The concepts and techniques in the Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program will lead you step by step, show you how to create compelling moments and scenes, how to move your reader with writing that jumps off the page and grabs them by the heart.

In this workshop, we will focus on stripping away the artifice of writing, the baggage that keeps us from the most essential building block of any writing: the Deep Voice. We’ll turn journal entries into poems and stories, and by the end of the class, you’ll produce a “chapbook” of your work, turning process into product. This class focuses on weekly journal writing using the techniques and concepts of Method Writing. Suitable for both poets and prose writers, beginners and advanced, this class will help you find your deep voice and use it to create clear and compelling written work.

We’ll be using Grapes’ textbook, METHOD WRITING: THE FIRST FOUR CONCEPTS. Continuing students can begin Level 2: The Four Voices and beyond.

These classes have been running for 30+ years and were founded by Jack Grapes. Classes are offered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. San Francisco classes run three times per year.

2013-09-06_1378502059For the second time, we will offer  Intermediate/Advanced Editing–this time on Saturday Afternoons

(For Method Writers)

This class is offered by invitation & audition and geared toward people who have taken Method Writing many times and who have found a project they want to take to the next level.

We focus on crafting short pieces, rewriting, and the principles of storytelling in order to you leave the class with solid finished pieces or excerpts/chapters from a larger work. The focus is on polishing the product. It is recommended that interested students already have familiarity with the concepts and techniques of Jack Grapes’ Method Writing and have found their voice and a particular project that they want to work on. Interested parties, drop us a line at


Get ready to Sign up For Fall Classes:

They start next week.

All classes this term are located at Wework Golden Gate *

25 Taylor Street * San Francisco, CA 94102.

Click on your preferred day or class to sign up.


Fall 2015 *  Schedule of Classes * Starting this September


Jack Grapes Method Writing Program

Instructor: Alexandra Kostoulas

Sept 16-Nov 4, 2015

6:30-9:30 pm

Tuition: $395


Writing the Literary Page Turner 

Instructor: Nick Mamatas

Sept 17-Nov 5, 2015

6:30-9:30 pm

Tuition: $495


Intermediate/Advanced Editing for Method Writers

Instructor: Alexandra Kostoulas

Sept 26-Nov 21, 2015


Tuition: $445


Poetry Workshop

Instructor: Hollie Hardy

Sept 27-Nov. 22, 2015

2:00-5:00 pm

Tuition $395

Come to our events!


write from the gutFriday, Sept 18. Write from the Gut #9. Fall Kick Off Reading Wework Golden Gate. 25 Taylor Street, San Francisco.  5:30-7:30 pm.  Click here for more info or to RSVP/get tickets.  Come join us for a fall term kick-off reading of poetry and prose Featuring the works of our talented writer/ teachers:

//////Nick Mamatas///////// of Writing the Literary Page-Turner
/////Alexandra Kostoulas//// of Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING
//////////Hollie Hardy//////// of Sunday Poetry Workshop

///////Also featuring works of students and alumni//////// from the ###SF Creative Writing Institute####

The event is free. We’ll have a keg of beer for you to enjoy and some wine. Feel free to bring snacks.

Also going on right outside the event will be the 5th Annual 6th Street Art Walk with live music, food trucks, and art exhibits. Come after work and enjoy.

If you took the any of our Spring classes, you are invited to read your works in progress. Please prepare something 3-minutes long to read on the mic. Also okay to attend without reading, but we’d love to have you join us. Invite your friends.

UnknownMonday Sept 21. At the Inkwell SF-Fiction Night–Alley Cat Books.  3036 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. 7pm.   Alexandra Kostoulas is the new curator for At The Inkwell SF–A curated reading series and book review blog started by Monique Antonette Lewis in New York and is hoping to go nation wide. You can find more about the series here. Basically, it’s a way to bring published to the bookstore authors to mingle and show off their recent work.  The San Francisco readings will take place at Alley Cat books for the first three months and will be on the third Monday of the month. Featured readers for September:

Elena Mauli Shapiro is the author of the novels 13 rue Thérèse and In the Red, both published with Little, Brown.  Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as ZyzzyvaFive Chapters, the Farallon Review.  She lives in the East Bay with one scientist husband and two ancient half-Siamese cats.

Apollo Papafrangou is a writer of novels, short stories, and poems from Oakland, CA. He is a 2010 graduate of the Mills College Creative Writing MFA program, and is the author of “Concrete Candy,” a short story collection published by Anchor Books, with French and Danish editions, when he was just 15 years old. He has since written for HBO Films, which optioned the movie rights to his novel “The Fence,” and his fiction has appeared in the Simon & Schuster anthology, “Trapped,” and “Voices,” a collection of works by Greek writers published by Nine Muses Press, among other publications. His debut novel WINGS OF WAX, the story of a shy, young artist seeking to reconnect with his ladies’ man father in Greece, is forthcoming from Booktrope.

Kathryn Kruse received her MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where she didn’t die of dehydration and did founded and curate the NeonLit reading series and run collaborative art projects. Her work is published, among other places, in Indiana ReviewThe Manchester Review, I Hope You’re Feeling Better Collaborative Exhibition and The Adirondack Review.

Carolina De Robertis is the internationally bestselling author of The Gods of TangoPerla, and The Invisible Mountain, which was a Best Book of 2009 according to the San Francisco Chronicle, O, The Oprah Magazine, and BookList. She is the recipient of Italy’s Rhegium Julii Prize and a 2012 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work has been translated into sixteen languages. Her writings and literary translations have appeared in Zoetrope: Allstory, Granta, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is also the translator of Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai, which was just made into a feature film, and Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case. De Robertis, a writer of Uruguayan origins, grew up in England, Switzerland, and California. Prior to completing her first book, she worked in women’s rights organizations for ten years, on issues ranging from rape to immigration. She makes her home in Oakland, California where she’s co-producing a documentary about people of African descent in Uruguay and working on her fourth novel.

 IMG_3046We had our raffle at the Bay Area Book Festival.

1st Prize: free 8-week course of your choice any time over the next year provided that the class is running.

2nd Prize: t-shirt with our logo on it.

3rd Prize: tote bag with our logo on it

What to do if you are a winner? Contact us! We will also be reaching out to the winners in the next few days with details on how to enroll.  We will offer this raffle once a year at our booth at the Bay Area Book Festival. Thanks for entering. 🙂

(We filmed the raffle drawing if anyone wants to see it.)

Guest author, Apollo Papafrangou reads from his forthcoming novel WINGS OF WAX.
Guest author, Apollo Papafrangou reads from his forthcoming novel WINGS OF WAX.

First Prize Winner: A. Mettler

Second Prize Winner: Melisa Evalynim

Third Prize Winner: Brandi Askin

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
? Joan Didion, The White Album


“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places…”

—Ernest Hemingway

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Spring 2015 Newsletter

Spring Renewal

A Time for Creative Rebirth

Hello, comrades at arms in the artistic struggle of life.

One thing that strikes me is how much internal resistance I get when I start doing new projects. It happens to me often. I struggle with internal resistance when I am taking on a new and innovative project. Self-doubt is like the ten-headed hydra. You cut off one head and another one grows in its place.  It happens to all of us.

Everyone gets rejected. Part of being a “real writer” is putting yourself out there and continuing to do so even as it stretches you in new and uncomfortable ways.

When you put yourself out there, you might hear a lot of no.

Yet, the longer I stay a writer, the longer I realize that most people are fighting a battle against themselves.  It’s always you against you. It’s kind of like how runners are always competing against their best time.  People often give up too soon. I’ve given up too soon.

As artists, our main opponent is often our own inertia. Sometimes it comes from lack of self-confidence, or imposter-syndrome, feeling like a fraud, etc. Other times interaction with a person or institution that is utterly     awful can get us down.  For me, when people act all arrogant about their art and have big egos it can really turn me off, or when one artists does something cruel, or petty to another, it makes me want to crawl underneath the covers, eat chocolate and hide from humanity.

It’s normal to want to go back into your shell if somebody dislikes what you are doing or naysays, or if someone is yucky out there in Artlandia.   (I made up that word!)  I think I’ve found a way to combat it.  Make more art. Lean into the turns. Collaborate. Conspire. Create.   Hit the reset button. Then roll up your sleeves and get to it. Make something new. Design something. Write something.  Apply to a contest or a fellowship. Send out something for publication. Post to your blog. Write a poem and post it on social media. Write in your journal, while drinking coffee and staring at the ocean.

Engage in some act of poetic defiance over the blocked creatives within and without.
Give yourself a do-over.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been giving myself a do-over lately on a lot of things.

As writers and artists, often as we strive to build our skills, there is a lot of quiet time dedicated to woodshedding and going underground, and then there is a time to bloom.

For me, I feel like now is that time. It’s scary to start new projects, but these particular projects have come      forward and announced themselves and I feel like there is no time better than the present to charge ahead with them.

Alexandra Kostoulas reads her poetry at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC Feb. 23 2015.
Alexandra Kostoulas reads her poetry at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC Feb. 23 2015.

© Alexandra Kostoulas

Method Writing SF
The Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program in San Francisco
Founder, The SF Creative Writing Institute

Read on for an overview and more on how you can get involved! We’ve got a reading coming up tomorrow, Spring classes starting at the end of April as well as featured student work by Rowena Henry, good news and updates, and more.

I’ll start with the big news: we’re expanding.

The SF Creative Writing Institute is a community of artists and makers dedicated to the teaching and telling of great stories, both true and fictional. Welcome aboard!

After three years of holding successful classes in San Francisco

in the Jack Grapes Method Writing Program, we are expanding to include other teachers and add new classes to the mix. We’re growing from Method Writing SF to the broader and more diverse   San Francisco Creative Writing Institute. Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING Program will still be a staple course within the Institute.   You can always get updated on the classes I teach in the Jack  Grapes METHOD WRITING Program at but, now, I also invite you to visit our new website:   That’s right. It’s a new domain and instead of a .com or .org, it’s a .institute.  You can visit our website for a complete list of courses     that we offer. We’re starting small, but already looking to add more     in the fall so keep an ear to the ground and stay tuned! If you haven’t done so already, please like us on Facebook, follow our institute on twitter and on instagram, and share with your friends and loved  ones who may be interested in our courses. We’ll still be tweeting out #bestlines from  Jack Grapes’ Method Writing Program classes via our old twitter handle. Feel free

to follow us there too. It’s @MethodWritingSF.

S.A.F.E.= Saving Arts from Extinction

We’re partnering with SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts

and its executive director Joe Landini (formerly of
The Garage). They’ve agreed to be our fiscal sponsor in order for us to receive grants and tax-deductible donations to help us grow. More on that coming soon.

Bay Area Book festival June 6-7 in downtown Berkeley images
The SF Creative Writing Institute has been offered a booth at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley! I have a booth from 9am-6pm on both days. On Saturday, June 6, we’ll be selling chapbooks and shmoozing with people who walk by.  On Sunday, June 7, We are scheduling non-stop readings at our booth as well as selling chapbooks.  If you are interested in signing up for a reading slot with us, please let me know so I can put you on the list. We’ll keep reminding you about it.


 BOOK Publishing: We’re producing an the Bay Area’s very best work
After many people have suggested that we publish our own book, I finally bit the bullet and started putting a team together. Yvonne Campbell has agreed to spearhead this project and act as the managing editor and Izzy Fischer will be directing the art. Flavia Stafani Resende is joining our editorial board as a reader. If you are interested in helping out with our anthology and directing its course, please let me know and I’ll put you on the list and invite  you to the editorial meetings as they unfold.  And, most importantly, if you want to get something published in our anthology, please start thinking about sending us your very best work. We’ll put out an official call for submissions in the coming months. We also need a name. Any ideas?

Mid-Market News


Not related to the SF Creative Writing Institute, I am starting to work as publisher alongside managing editor Ted Andersen on a new hyper-local media project called the Mid-Market News  which is dedicated to telling the story  of SF’s emerging Mid-Market neighborhood. If you are interested in writing for us or know any full-time students who would like a summer journalism internship, cue them in on this new project. For more info, or to get involved, email



We’ve still got your old favorites, but also adding something new flavors as well. 


  • Check out Tuesday Nights’ Intermediate/Advanced Editing for people who have taken Method Writing many times. 
  • Meet our new instructor, Nick Mamatas. He has extensive experience in the writing world and works as an editor at Viz Media. He also teaches at various low-residency MFA programs. Learn more about Nick here or come meet him this Saturday at our reading.


Click on the class you want to sign up. 

Tuesdays:  Intermediate/Advanced Editing

w/ Alexandra Kostoulas

April 28 – June 16, 2015 * 6:30-9:30pm* Tuition: $445

This class is offered by invitation & audition and geared toward people who have taken Method Writing many times and who have found a project they want to take to the next level. We focus on crafting short pieces, rewriting, and the principles of storytelling in order to help the students leave the class with solid finished pieces or excerpts/chapters from a larger work. The focus is on polishing the product. It is recommended that the interested student already have familiarity with the concepts and techniques of Jack Grapes’ Method Writing and have found their voice and a particular project that they want to work on. (Great for if you are nearing the end of a project or if you are currently enrolled in an MFA program and need to produce pages.) Interested parties, drop us a line at There will be some take-home editing and in-class critique of printed out manuscripts.

Thursdays: Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING Program

w/ Alexandra Kostoulas

April 30-June 18, 2015 * 6:30-9:30pm Tuition: $395

In this workshop, we will focus on stripping away the artifice of writing, the baggage that keeps us from the most essential building block of any writing: the Deep Voice. We’ll turn journal entries into poems and stories, and by  the end of the class, you’ll produce a “chapbook” of your work, turning process into product. This class focuses on weekly journal writing using the techniques and concepts of Method Writing. Suitable for both poets and prose writers, beginners and advanced, this class will help you find your deep voice and use it to create clear and compelling written work.

We’ll be using Grapes’ textbook, METHOD WRITING: THE FIRST FOUR CONCEPTS. Continuing students can begin Level 2: The Four Voices and beyond or continue through the program if so inclined.  These classes have been running for 30+ years and were founded by Jack Grapes. Classes are offered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. San Francisco classes run three times per year.

Saturdays: Writing the Literary Page Turner
w/ Nick Mamatas

April 25-June 20, 2015 * 2:00-5:00pm *Tuition: $495

(skipping the week of May 25)

 Exciting plots and larger-than-life characters are the cornerstones of popular fiction and the emphasis of this course. Whether you’re writing romance, mystery, science fiction, or suspense, the principles of writing popular fiction – interesting prose, characters with whom we can empathize, and a story that moves – are key.

In this course, we’ll workshop your short stories and novel chapters, explore the history of the genres, perform writing and idea-generating exercises, and discuss the magazines and publishers looking for your sort of fiction. The goal is to give you a solid grounding in the demands of popular fiction from an editorial point of view, and a better understanding of your favorite genres.

Come to Our Reading This Saturday:
Write From the Gut! Reading Series #8:
End-of-Class Reading w/ special guests

Saturday, April 4


SAFEhouse Arts

1 Grove Street

San Francisco, CA


Get Tickets

Come join us for an end-of-class reading at the location of our newest co-conspirator, SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts. Writers are students and alumni of the Jack Grapes Method Writing Program in SF taught by Alexandra Kostoulas.  Each reading we strive to involve featured readers from the writing community at large and musicians that inspire us.  Alumni of METHOD WRITING are always welcome to show up and read a quick piece on the mic. If you want to read, just let me know.

For the first time, I’ve invited several writers I admire from the East Bay to read alongside the Method Writers.  They are all active in the local reading scene and I want you to meet them. They are each powerhouses in their own way, each with a fierce presence all her own. Here they are in the order in which they responded to my invitation:

Cassandra Dallet + MK Chavez + Alexandra Naughton + Hollie Hardy

Here’s a little bit about each of them:
Cassandra Dallett lives in Oakland CA . She writes poetry and memoir of a counter culture childhood in Vermont and her ongoing adolescence in the San Francisco Bay Area. Cassandra has published in a full length book of poetry called WET RECKLESS recently released by Manic D Press.

MK Chavez is the author of Virgin Eyes (Zeitgeist Press) VisitationNext Exit #9 (with John Sweet) and Pinnacle(Kendra Steiner Editions.)  She also co-curates the reading series Lyrics & Dirges at Pegasus Books at 2349 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.

Alexandra Naughton  is a writer based in Oakland, California. She wrote I Will Always Be Your Whore [love songs for Billy Corgan], which was published by Punk Hostage Press in January, 2014. She hosts a reading series in the Bay Area and also publishes a literary magazine, both called Be About It. She’s also the co-founder of empathlit.

Hollie Hardy can teach you how to survive anything. Her first collection of poetry, How to Take a Bullet, And Other Survival Poems is available now from Punk Hostage Press (2014). She teaches English at Berkeley City College and at SF State University where she received her MFA in Poetry. She co-hosts Saturday Night Special reading series in Oakland and is a core producer for the Beast Crawl Literary Festival in Oakland, co-curator of Litquake’s Flight of Poets.

We also have a featured musician:

Lake Lady   Charise Sowells a.k.a. Lake Lady began writing songs with a Tascam 4-track and her voice. A singer with a penchant for interesting harmonies, her tone harkens back to an era before her time. Playing shows with her acoustic guitar and singing a capella led to a multitude of collaborations with singer/songwriters, bands, electronic DJs, pop producers and rappers in LA, NY and abroad. Following a national tour as a lead singer in a band, she started her own duo called Lake Lady and the Mountain Man. Since the birth of Lake Lady in 2014, in addition to playing live, she has heard the first single, “Will Your Feelings Change?” from her forthcoming EP in collaboration with Midnite Tiger on multiple radio stations. In the vein of Massive Attack and Portishead, this soulful pop song features sensual vocals, chilled out rhythms and haunting melodic structure.

/////////////and, headlining the whole shebang will be Creative Writing Instructor in the SF Creative Writing Institute and Featured Author, Nick Mamatas////////////////////

Nick Mamatas 

is the author of seven novels, over one hundred short stories, and dozens of essays and articles. His books include the novels Love is the Law and The Last Weekend, the short fiction collection The Nickronomicon, and the how-to guide for writing short fiction and non-fiction, Starve Better. Nick’s short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Asimov’s Science Fiction, New Haven Review, and many other anthologies and journals. He has written about writing for The Writer, Fine Books & Collections, and Wonderbook. His anthologies include the award-winning Haunted Legends (co-edited with Ellen Datlow) and The Future Is Japanese (co-edited with Masumi Washington.)

This Month’s Featured Writer
From the Jack Grapes’ Method Writing Program
 Rowena Choy Henry, RN 


The female shaman, the mudang, that Seok had consulted had chosen this particular night of the waxing moon as the most auspicious for grave digging. Using the traditional ceremonial rites the mudang had invoked the ancestral spirits of Seok’s clan and had received their approval of the undertaking. So on this dark night while a few distant stars twinkled dimly in the nocturnal sky Seok and the two shabbily dressed men that she had hired in town walked single file on the pebbled path with dim lanterns to light the way. Under the cover of darkness and carrying a shovel, a pick, and some rope they had slipped quietly into the large cemetery here in Pyongyang, successfully avoiding the night watchman.

The night was icy cold and the fierce wind chilled Seok’s body despite the thick, old, gray padded coat she was wearing. The coat had belonged to her late father and many nights she had seen him tiredly putting it on after dinner to go out and milk the goats in the old wooden shed behind their small farmhouse. It still smelled faintly of his pipe tobacco and it seemed fitting she was wearing his coat tonight as she had come to collect the body of her beloved younger brother Young Jin.
Her witch of a sister-in-law had not even bothered to consult a mudang when she decided to bury her husband’s body next to her parents and their son in this Catholic cemetery. Now Seok’s brother was alone because his profligate wife had flitted off to Peking to join her brothers and his children were scattered, some in China with their mother and the rest being raised by his eldest married daughter in Seoul. There was no one here to honor his grave or his memory, a serious breach of Korean traditions.
Seok was convinced that Young Jin’s gravesite was unlucky and that her little brother was wandering and lost on his long and difficult journey to the other side. He could not enter the after life because the three separated aspects of his spirit were unable to reunite. Her memorial shrine at home where she paid her daily respects housed one part of his spirit, the other lay in his grave here in this cemetery, and the last was a restless drifter who could eventually become a malignant ghost and bring bad luck to his descendants. This belief was a festering wound in Seok’s heart so she had planned and schemed for seven years to bring Young Jin’s body back home to the remote mountain village where they were born and their parents and ancestors were buried.

As they walked quietly to the hillside where her brother was buried, she could hear the men’s nervous whispers. They were terrified of ghosts and other spirits that inhabited graveyards. The fact that Seok was able to find two men who had even agreed to accompany her tonight was an indication of how desperately poor they were. One of the hired men limped badly and the other was blind in one eye. They were older gray haired men from the ostracized lowest caste in Korean society, the baekjeong, and their suffering and hard lives were easy to read in their morose, careworn faces. But even these impoverished men had charged her a high price when they learned she needed illegal grave diggers. Seok had already paid them half the amount and promised to pay the other half when their task was done.

It was well known in Korea that demons and ghosts and spirits preyed on unlucky people in graveyards or dug up and ate the livers of the newly buried dead. So every sound, every owl hoot, the creaking noise made when the wind rubbed two tree branches together made the men jump and glance around fearfully. The cold wind blew the mist from the nearby river over their path. The mist swirled and covered trees and bushes and grave mounds creating momentarily half recognizable figures that frightened the men. “Is that a Gumiho there next to the path?” whispered one of the men pointing with a shaky finger at a nebulous shape with what appeared to be a foxlike nose. This legendary demon was a 9 tail fox, an animalistic shape changer who often assumed the figure of a beautiful woman to lure men to their doom. The wind blew away the mist and they saw a large gravestone. Then later “Look!” said his companion and pointed to what looked like a group of malignant trolls, the Dokkaebi, but that turned out to be bushes planted around a tree. Only Seok was not afraid. She had lost everyone she had loved years ago and she had nothing left to lose.
She remembered, all those years ago, when she first fell in love with her little brother. She was eight years old and her mother had just died in childbirth after finally bearing her husband the son he had wanted for so long. Seok could see her mother’s lifeless body lying on her straw pallet on the floor. What would she do without her omani? Outside their old farmhouse she could hear her aboji, her father, wailing and sobbing. She too was crying inconsolably when the midwife, an old white-haired woman, had thrust the squalling newborn baby into her arms, his still bloody body swaddled hastily in an old underskirt of her mother’s. The midwife, in an attempt to distract and comfort Seok touched one of the baby’s earlobes with a gnarled finger and said “Ai! Your father has a son! And look he has such big fat earlobes. I’ve never seen any so big on a baby before. That’s good luck. He’ll grow up to be a successful man! He’ll be rich!”
Seok tried to stop crying, sniffling as she looked at the baby, really looked at him for the first time-the small red face, the surprising thatch of black hair, the perfect pink lips open wide as he cried, the tiny fists waving in the air, and yes, those outsized earlobes. She felt a sudden welling of love and a fierce protective feeling for this helpless little brother who had just lost his omani. She felt her beloved mother’s gentle presence in the room and the passing of the responsibility of the baby to her. One day her father’s only male heir would grow up and become the head of their family and Seok, Young Jin’s nuna, his older sister, was duty-bound to ensure his survival and well-being.

Her father, a kind quiet man, was a poor tenant farmer with a small plot of land in a remote mountainous area. They lived in a one room weather beaten old farmhouse and her father labored long hours every day for the local landholder. Seok took the baby to bed with her every night to keep him warm and to comfort him. She fed him by dipping a small cloth into a cup of warm goat’s milk, watching him suck it greedily. She took over her mother’s household duties-the cooking, and the cleaning, and hand washing all of their clothes in the nearby stream. They raised a few goats and had small yearly crops of sweet potatoes, beans, and some greens. When Seok went out to care for the goats or work on their plot of land she would strap Young Jin to her back and later when he was little he would play in the fields laughing when he tripped over the furrows while she worked. All day he would follow her calling “Nuna! Nuna! She and their aboji, who adored his young son, pampered Young Jin and gave him the best tidbits at mealtimes so he would grow up strong.

Seok scrimped and saved and even went to work as a farmhand alongside with her father when she was fifteen so they could pay the school fees for Young Jin. Both she and her father were illiterate but Koreans have a traditional respect for knowledge and they wanted to provide Young Jin the opportunity to go to school. Perhaps he could become a scholar? It was one of the few ways men from their class could rise to a higher social level and gain respect. Young Jin excelled at school, as she knew he would, especially with numbers. By the time he was a teenager he was the official family barterer with their neighbors-he had a knack for buying and selling and not only intuitively understood what his customers wanted but could charm them with his friendly chatter.
When Young Jin was seventeen years old he stunned his aboji when he announced that he did not want to be a scholar or farmer but wanted to become a traveling peddler. This break with tradition was unheard of and considered highly disrespectful to his familial traditions and the sacrifices his father and sister had made for him. But after his aboji recovered from his shock even he had to admit that Seok was a better farmer than Young Jin. His handsome, bright son with the laughing eyes and winning ways deserved a better life than that of a downtrodden poverty-stricken tenant farmer who was so dependent on unreliable weather conditions and the foibles of his landlord. Becoming a successful scholar would take more years of study which they could ill afford. Besides he had never denied his dearly loved son anything and it was hard to do so now. However Young Jin had ambitions but no money.

To provide her brother with funds, Seok sadly and regretfully decided to sacrifice her only claim to beauty-her thick, glossy, waist-long black hair that had never been cut. She knew Koreans believed hair was part of the body and they received their body from their parents and ancestors so to cut it was almost sacrilegious. And because women’s bodies were covered from neck to feet by their traditional billowing hanboks rich, thick hair was one of the few ways their beauty, health and fecundity could be judged. Plus It was her one vanity. She had grown up to become a tall, rawboned, strongly muscular young woman with a broad tanned face and her work worn hands were roughened by years of farm work. She was well aware that she didn’t have the pale moon skin, the large lustrous eyes, and the delicate beauty that was so highly prized then. But every night she brushed her long beautiful hair before she went to bed and every morning she woke and brushed and braided it. As an unmarried woman she was not allowed to wear it up so she was accustomed to the weight of the thick heavy braid hanging down her back.

On the next market day she secretly went to the local hair buyer and sold her beautiful hair. She cried when she saw how ugly she looked with the shockingly short chin length haircut but she was bitterly aware that she wasn’t the first poor woman who had been forced to sell her only asset. Thankfully her sacrifice had not been in vain and she had received enough money for her brother to buy supplies to sell and even a little left over for lodgings. The day Young Jin left home Seok and their aboji stood in front of their farmhouse with tears running down their faces as they watched his departure. Her heart was broken-she knew he would never return and she was right. After several years peddling he had made enough money to open a small business in Pyongyang. He bought hair from poor Korean women and manufactured wigs, hairpieces, and hair extensions that were much in demand. His business grew and grew and he eventually exported hair products as far as China.The midwife was right everything he touched turned to gold. He married a woman from a merchant family and they had 9 children. A dutiful son, he never forgot his nuna and his aboji and sent money home regularly so they could buy farm land and live a more comfortable life.

But when Young Jin was forty-one years old tragedy struck-his oldest son, the smartest of his nine children, his golden child who held all his hopes and his dreams in the palms of his hands was killed in a tragic diving accident. He’d been a brilliant scholar and had been accepted by Tokyo University to study medicine. Young JIn was devastated. Within a year Seok’s handsome, vibrant, hardworking brother was dead. He literally drank himself to death. No modern medicine, no herbal remedies, no priests, no shamans could save his life when he had willed himself to die. Sometimes, deep in her heart, Seok wondered if she and her father had pampered Young Jin too much when he was young, had smoothed too many bumps in his life’s road because they loved him so much. Though he had started life as a poor farm boy everything had come easily to him, maybe too easily, and perhaps that’s why he had lacked the inner strength, the fortitude, the resilience to overcome his grief when his son died.

Seok and the men finally reached Young Jin’s gravesite. The light from the lantern showed her that the traditional earthen mound that covered his grave had been neglected-there were weeds and dead leaves and overgrown grass and her heart grieved. The men set to work shoveling away the grass covered dirt on the grave. Luckily it had rained the previous day and the ground was still soft and damp and smelled richly of fertile earth. Within a couple of hours the men had exposed the wooden coffin. Using their ropes they hauled it up out of the grave and laid it on the ground. Seok brushed the dirt gently off the top of the coffin. Outwardly calm, she was suddenly afraid. How badly had his body decayed? How would he look? Would she have the courage to be able to do this one last thing for him?

In the meantime, the men were becoming extremely spooked and more nervous and anxious. They kept glancing around fearfully though it was hard to see beyond the light of their lanterns. They pried off the lid of the coffin with the pick. Seok raised her lantern and looked upon her brother’s face for the first time in seven years. She was surprised and relieved to see that Young Jin’s body looked remarkably well preserved. Perhaps it was due to all the rice wine he had drunk or the multitude of medications and herbal remedies that were given to him in a hopeless attempt to save his life in the last few months before the end. But the blankness of his pinched, gray face testified that his spirit had fled his body a long time ago. His body was still clothed in the white hemp suii, the traditional Korean clothing for the dead.
One of the men gingerly picked up her brother’s arm. The flesh on his whole arm slid off silently leaving the shocked man holding the bone. The man shrieked as he dropped it. The other man cried out in horror and then they both suddenly bolted, plunging down the hillside as fast as they could in the dark. Seok could hear their pounding feet and the sound of them crashing into bushes and tripping over gravestones. Luckily the wind was blowing so hard and so loudly that she doubted the watchman on the other side of the cemetery heard them.

Finally the sound of the fleeing men faded and there was only the whistling of the wind on this dark misty night. Seok was alone with her brother. She told him softly “Your nuna is here. I’ll take you home so you can finally rest.” She unwrapped the bundle she had carried all evening. She unfolded a large piece of white hemp cloth on the ground and slowly, piece by piece she carefully placed her brothers bones on the cloth in a neat pile. Like his arm, the flesh slid easily off his other bones too. She carefully wrapped the pile of bones into as neat a package as she could manage and stowed it all into a large sturdy burlap sack.

Then Seok sat on the cold ground on her knees and bowed her head and cried silently for a long time. When she had finally finished weeping and had wiped her eyes, she told her brother of the arrangements she had made back home. A mudang had selected a lucky spot for his gravesite near their parent’s and a grave had already been dug and was ready for him. She had hand sewn Young Jin a new Hanji suii, a set of white hemp burial clothes and a shroud to wrap his body for his final journey. And, after they got home, on a propitious day already chosen, he would have the Jangnye, the traditional three day/three night memorial service and the mudang would conduct the shamanistic rituals to unite the three parts of her brother’s spirit and lead him to the afterlife where he would join their ancestors for his eternal rest.

Afterwards she bowed her head and prayed that they would have a safe passage home. She doubted anyone would bother her, a poor old peasant woman from the mountains. She picked up the burlap sack and threw it over her shoulder. Luckily, years of hard farm work had toughened her body and she was used to carrying heavy loads. Seok started walking slowly down the hillside, holding the lantern in one hand, and her head bent as she carried her heavy burden. But the heartache she had borne so long was gone and she felt an overwhelming thankfulness that she had fulfilled her filial duty and that she was finally bringing Young Jin home.

Written while taking the Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program. March 2, 2015.

Good News from our students, alumni and instructors
Alexandra and Liz Peters
Alexandra Kostoulas and Liz Peters
at the Bowery Poetry Club Green Room
in New York Taken: Winter, 2015
I’m pleased to announce that several students of METHOD WRITING got into excellent MFA programs:
Flavia Stefani Resende was accepted into the MFA Program in Fiction at California College of the Arts, San Francisco State University, University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Liz Peters was accepted into the MFA program in Poetry at SF State University (last year), and this year she was accepted at CUNY @ Queens to the MFA in Translation Program. She currently co-curates the Bowery Poetry Club readings and the Kaf reading series in Brooklyn.
Simon Thomas was accepted into the MFA Program in Fiction at California College of the Arts.

Alexandra Kostoulas to feature at Why There are Words Reading Series on Thursday, April 9 on a houseboat in Sausalito!  Why There Are Words presents “Sure,” an evening of readings free of doubt about their quality from these unwavering authors. Join us, and be convinced. April 9, 2015, Studio 333 in Sausalito. Doors open at 7pm; readings begin at 7:15. $10.

–Do you have any news you’d like to share with the group? Let us know and we’ll include it in our next newsletter.

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