It was a bright Saturday morning seventeen years ago when I first sat down to write fiction. In the next room, an unsigned divorce agreement lay on an unmade bed like a three-day-old mackerel whose odor I could not escape. I had a pack of Dunhills, a yellow legal pad, and an archaic fountain pen that my great-uncle, an RAF fighter pilot, used to write the love letters that convinced my aunt, an American Red Cross volunteer, to marry him, although now the pen stained my fingers if I so much as touched it. I also had a deep desire to be heard; to have my words be the hammer that knocked the camel through the eye of the needle.
Now, one of my favorite short stories is Chekhov's "Misery." It's about a horse cab driver who has to go out and work on the same evening he finds out his son has died in a faraway place. He keeps trying to tell those he meets about his son's death and his own grief but never finds a sympathetic listener, so, that night, unable to sleep, he gets up from his pallet in the barn and goes into his horse's stall and tells her all he's been longing to say. It's a chilling and masterful story. Sitting at my desk that Saturday, I remembered it, thought about it, and realized the horse cab driver and I wanted the same thing. So I simply started putting words on paper. During a break to get a cup of coffee, I signed the divorce agreement, walked it down to the drop box on the corner, came back, sat down at my desk, unlocked and raised the rolltop, and kept writing.
I started writing every day. Sometimes I'd start as soon as I awoke and not stop until I fell exhausted into bed eighteen hours later. When money ran low I ate cheese and crackers and got my medical care from a doddering Taiwanese doctor at the VA; I didn't whimper and whine and go running back to the jobs where I'd already spent so many miserable years on my knees begging to be allowed to do ten dollars worth of work for eight dollars of pay so some mediocrity above me would have enough money to make his daughter neurotic.
So, at one time, I was a beginner, too. That probably goes without saying, but it's important you realize I wasn't sprung into this world knowing how to write. I also think it's important you know something about my credentials — after all, if you take this course, you're putting yourself in my hands:
Wendell Newton has published over seventy short stories, essays, and reviews in literary magazines. His collection of stories and occasional prose pieces, Up From the Dust, was published in 1997 by Three Mountains Press and was recognized as one of the year's top ten books by the Organization of Small Presses. Though Newton didn't try his hand at fiction until he was 27, he has been writing since he was a young man — in high school he won a statewide contest with an essay on the Battle of Agincourt. After majoring in English and minoring in French at Marshall University, he spent four years in the air force as a specialist in public relations, and in that capacity he wrote press releases and articles for base newsletters, and then he became speechwriter and personal secretary for a brigadier general, serving fourteen months in the Pentagon. After leaving the military he freelanced for a time, then took an editorial position with America's Farmer, the country's second oldest agricultural publication.
However, for the last eight years, Newton has made his living purely from his literary pursuits. When he's not working with his students in the Famous Writers School or writing himself, he publishes a literary magazine, Upward Spiral, and does freelance copyediting. His novel, Out of Rain, is forthcoming from Three Mountains Press. He lives in a home overlooking a beautiful river in the mountains of West Virginia with his two mixed-breed dogs, Duke and Daisy, and in his spare time he likes to play bridge.
All right, let's talk about the course. You complete six lessons that cover all the elements of fiction:
#1: Tell me the best story you've ever heard
#2: Put pressure on your characters
#3: Let your characters have their own lives
#4: Make it mean something
#5: What comes first, plot or character?
#6: Putting it all together
For each lesson you'll receive a teaching text and a writing assignment to complete and send back for evaluation. I usually read assignments within a week of receiving them and then mail my comments back. At the end of the course, you are invited to send me a story or even a novel manuscript, and if I think your work is publishable I will use my contacts to help the piece find a home.
The tuition for the course is $295, payable by money order, certified check, or personal check made out to Famous Writers School. That's less than half the cost of a university writing workshop, and if at any point you aren't happy with your instruction, just let me know and I'll refund the total amount of your tuition. Please send along with your payment the application card included in this mailing, and also please include a personal statement in which you tell me about yourself and your writing goals. If I can get to know you a little better, I think it makes me a better teacher for you.
Another thing. Everyone who signs up receives a free one-year subscription to Upward Spiral, which has published many former students of the Famous Writers School.
I'm signing off now, but as a P.S., I'm including some comments about the course from former students. Good-bye, and I hope to hear from you soon.
The Famous Writers School is fantastic! I've completed the course and am now working on the novel I've always dreamed of writing about the well-heeled but spiritually bankrupt clients I served for years.
— Earl P., retired landscape architect
My dream is coming true. I can't believe it. Thanks!
— Lois R., housewife
Famous Writers School rocks! I've published two stories in horror magazines!
— Joe B., computer sales associate
I was a student at one of the famous university writing workshops. My fellow classmates were for the most part literary effetes interested only in looking like writers as they sat in campus bars. I don't know why I signed up for the Famous Writers School, since most courses like this are a joke. However, I learned more in one story response from Wendell than I did in listening to a whole year of blather from the more famous writers at the program I attended. If you really want to write, I suggest you pay the pittance Wendell asks and sign up for his course. You'll never have money more well spent.
— Name and address withheld upon request
This course isn't like the others. He actually helps you.
— Macy P., respiratory therapist
Famous Writers School opened me up to the possibilities of the written word.
— Nancy Q., self-employed
Newton is like Kafka, who was largely unknown during his lifetime, though he wrote groundbreaking fiction. At the end of the day Newton’s work will be seen in the same light. He is so much better than the literary effetes who sneeze once and call it a story, sneeze twice and call it a novel, and then go on Charlie Rose to have their noses wiped.
— Dr. Reston McN., university professor of English
When I first signed up for the Famous Writers School course, I was afraid Mr. Newton wouldn't be open to helping me write a romance novel. However, I was wrong. He nurtured me every step of the way, and my book was just accepted at a publisher. I'm now in Europe doing research for my next book.
—Sallie L., nurse