Summer sessions of Creative Nonfiction in Davis + Sacramento open for registration, featuring work by you (!)

IMG_4004Dear writers–

I’m so happy to share the news that the upcoming summer session of my CREATIVE NONFICTION workshop is officially open for registration.

The theme this summer: ESSAYS BY WOMEN. We’ll be slowing down to focus on exceptional standalone pieces this time around, taking our readings from one anthology as well as from an online compendium of work by writers who have been in CNF and Scribe Lab with me over the years. (You read that right—you’re on the syllabus! And I could not be more excited to see how this session inspires all of you to push new work out into the world.)

The Davis section meets Tuesday nights from 6:30—8:30 PM, May 9—August 22. The Sacramento section meets Wednesday nights from 6:30–8:30 PM, May 10—August 23.

Interested in jumping in? Drop me an email at to request the registration form, which covers all the rest of the details. The registration deadline (which is an in-my-hands deadline, not a postmark deadline) is Friday, April 21st.

All my best springtime thoughts to all of you–I hope you’re writing up a storm.

Winter/spring sessions of CREATIVE NONFICTION and SCRIBE LAB now open for registration (+ little giveaways + upcoming Evenings With Our Authors with Paul Lisicky)

img_3701Hello, all!

It’s time for me to make the biggest announcement of the year: the upcoming winter/spring sessions of my CREATIVE NONFICTION workshop (both sections, in Davis and Sacramento), and my online, cross-genre workshop SCRIBE LAB are *all* open for registration as of this morning.

The upcoming session of my long-term, ongoing CREATIVE NONFICTION workshop will serve as a continuation of the current session on difficult memoirs. We just can’t pull ourselves away from this territory right now! Those of you who were in Difficult Memoirs I or II already know that we will focus on the question of how to scale difficult content for the crucible of the full-length book. If you are trying to figure out how to write as an ‘I’ without reducing your work to sensationalism, or if you simply want to swim around in writing that proves that the imagination of narrative can transform any story, you really should be with us—regardless of whether or not you are yourself writing something you would call a ‘difficult memoir.’ Like all preceding sessions in this workshop’s thirteen-year history, the upcoming session will provide regular deadlines and inspirations for new writing, the structure to develop a variety of shorter works (or longer pieces, one stretch at a time) and lots of feedback to support your project(s) moving forward, clear through the spring… as well as an EVENINGS WITH OUR AUTHORS event with author Paul Lisicky on April 23rd that you’ll automatically be registered for if you’re in the session. (Yeah–I’m unbelievably excited too. So excited to bring Paul to our circle this spring!)

The Davis section of CNF meets Tuesday nights 6:30—8:30 PM, January 3—April 25. The Sacramento section meets Wednesday nights 6:30—8:30 PM, January 4—April 26. And the first person to register for each section will receive a surprise treat, just because.

SCRIBE LAB, my online, cross-genre workshop, is a hearty, dynamic space for writers all over the world to join hands, dive in, and make major progress on existing projects (or in new explorations) in any genre. Designed to meet the needs of those for whom online community is the most sustainable and necessary form of support for new writing, this group operates a little like a virtual residency of sorts, with monthly ‘labs’ (which offer pushes for your content, form, and process, and which are written to the pulse of the group), hard monthly due dates to support the making of new pages, and intensive feedback structuring our community. All our interactions take place on a secure, password-protected group site, and participants to form deeper connections to one another and their own visions for their work over longer, six-month-long stretches. There is nothing else like it out there. In the coming session, I’ll be unveiling six brand-new labs that I’ve brainstormed over the last year—the very best of the best of the dozens and dozens of labs that I’ve got the seeds of stashed away for the future. The future is right now, friends—we’re going to write our guts out together.

The ninth (!) session of SCRIBE LAB kicks off January 1st and lasts clear through the end of June 2017. (And the first person to register for SL is in for a surprise treat too, also just because.)

Want to register for one of these workshops?—drop me an email (at to request the registration form for the group you’re interested in. Don’t wait!–these groups tend to fill. Registration deadline for all: Friday, 12/16/16.

As always, all my very very best to all of you.

Fall session of Creative Nonfiction (‘Difficult Memoirs II’) + Evenings With Our Authors with Sarah Arvio now open for registration

IMG_3290Hello, friends–

I’m pleased to say that the fall sessions of my Creative Nonfiction workshops in Davis and Sacramento are officially open for registration.

Our theme this fall: difficult memoirs. Those of you who were in the first session centered on this theme in fall 2014 have been asking for a sequel ever since, and I couldn’t be more excited to return to the question of how to scale difficult content for the crucible of the full-length book. If you are trying to figure out how to write as an I without reducing your work to sensationalism, or if you simply want to swim around in writing that proves that the imagination of narrative can transform any story, you really should be with us this fall. Like all that have preceded it in this workshop’s now twelve-year history, this session will provide you with regular deadlines and inspirations for your new writing, as well as lots of feedback to support its development moving forward, clear through the fall.

I’m also excited to announce that in conjunction with this session, we’ll enjoy an Evenings With Our Authors event on Sunday December 11th with Sarah Arvio, whose incredible book night thoughts will be one of the titles on our list this session. To streamline planning, I’m building registration for Sarah’s EWOA into the course fee for the session–so if you’re in CNF this fall, you’ll automatically be registered for it. (If you’re not, but you’ve been in workshop recently and would like to see whether I might be able to fit you in to the plan for that evening, drop me an email and ask-I will know for sure in late August.)

CNF in Davis will meet Tuesdays 7-9 PM, September 6-December 20, at a friendly little Davis treehouse where I keep the kettle going.

CNF in Sacramento will meet Wednesdays 6:30-8:30 PM, September 7-December 21, at a lovely private home in East Sac that welcomes us over and over.

Want to jump in? Drop me an email at to request the registration form, which covers all the rest of the details. Early registration ends Friday, August 19. (If this fall is anything like recent fall sessions, all spots will fill before the deadline, so I sincerely advise not waiting until the last minute to register.)

Looking forward to everything to come!

xo R

Just a few pictures from Evenings With Our Authors…

…with Novella Carpenter, Pam Houston, + Wendy C. Ortiz this year!


Thanks so much, everyone, for making this such a stellar year for the series (and thanks again, Novella + Pam + Wendy, for coming to break bread and talk with us about this work we all share).

Stay tuned for announcements about next year’s EWOA events. Til then–

xoxox R

It only happens twice a year (and this time it’s a special session!): SCRIBE LAB open for registration

IMG_2304     Happy summer, writers!

I could not be more thrilled to announce that the eighth session of SCRIBE LAB, my online cross-genre offering, is officially open for registration.

SCRIBE LAB is a hearty, dynamic space for writers all over the world to join hands, dig in, and make major progress either on existing projects or in new explorations in any genre. Designed to meet the needs of those for whom online community is the most sustainable and necessary form of support for new writing, this group operates a bit like an online workshop and a bit like a virtual residency of sorts, with monthly discussions, readings and writing exercises, and intensive feedback structuring our community, and lots and lots of mutual work hum in the air.

All our interactions take place on a secure, password-protected group site, and virtual writing dates help participants to form deeper connections to both one another as well as their own processes over longer, six-month-long stretches. My vision for this community was born out of my desire to offer an intensive workshop that could accommodate those who were writing hard across forms (and potentially across notions of form), who might not find themselves quite at home in traditional or short workshops, and/or those who might have their hands in several different writing projects at once. The lab is rich, wild, and full of conversation about voice and process. Some writers work close to the monthly lab discussions and exercises, others completely independently of them while using the synergy of the space to feed long-term writing projects.

All of us keep going, together, month after month–and it shows.

The next session, like the one that launched in July ’15 (in which we read our way through the entirely of Graywolf Press’ ‘Art of’ series), will be a special session.

Through special arrangement with Graywolf (which just keeps publishing the things I most want to teach), we’ll be reading and working our way through John D’Agata’s A History of the Essay… a series of three incredible anthologies that collect a wide variety of works by a whole swirling star-system of wildly inventive authors including Virginia Woolf, Francis Ponge, W.E.B. DuBois, Gertrude Stein, Clarice Lispector, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Anne Carson, Gertrude Stein, Lydia Davis, Carole Maso, Mary Ruefle, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and Jenny Boully (among many, many others).

Even though the word ‘essay’ appears on the cover of each of the anthologies we’ll be drawing from for our reading, if you know anything about these authors (or about John D’Agata’s vision of the essay…) you know that we’re going to be diving into a whole cosmos of approaches to the page that will ultimately bend our expectations of and feed our imagination for ANY page we are making. The lab will continue to function as a cross-genre space, open to all writers who want to claim it–poets, prose writers, those working on multiple projects simultaneously, those working in more exploratory veins. I’ll be framing our reading and writing projects from a cross-genre perspective, so that no matter what you’re working on at any given moment, you’ll find lots to chew on.

(If you’d like to peruse the full table of contents for the series to get a further sense of just how little this session is going to have to do with ‘the essay’ as you practiced it in composition class, check it out here.)

Everyone who registers for this special session will receive instructions for how to order the complete series at a handsome discount that is being made available to us by the good people at Graywolf—$55 for all three anthologies + the companion volume, shipping included.

This will be the only chance to jump into SCRIBE LAB for the remainder of 2016—this next session will kick off July 1st and run for six months, clear through the end of the year. If you’d like to register, drop me an email at rgouirand [at] gmail [dot] com to request instructions on how to do so (or to chat about whether the lab would be a good fit for you).

For more details about how we operate, or to read what writers in the lab have said about how we work together, see this page–these folks will tell you everything you need to know. Cheers!

Water: More or Less–an interview with Stephanie Taylor

FINAL_frontcover_web_2-1-16This spring, artist + writer Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Taylor (who many of you know as a member of my Creative Nonfiction workshop in Sacramento ever since we met in 2010) released a magnificent project—her first book of art-and-writing, Water: More or Less, with co-author (and Water Education Foundation former executive director) Rita Schmidt Sudman. Twenty top water policy leaders (including the Foundation’s current executive director, Jennifer Bowles, and California State Librarian Emeritus Kevin Starr) contribute to the book, which is grounded throughout its 240 pages by Stevie’s original visual art and stirring investigative essays on California water.

Those of us who know Stevie from workshop have had the pleasure of seeing early drafts of many of the essays that anchor this book—so I know I speak for all of us when I offer her the heartiest congratulations for pushing this important book out into the world! Knowing that her story would be of interest to a huge number of essayists in our community, I asked her a few questions about the process by which this unusual project took shape.

You can also tune in tomorrow (Thursday, May 12th) at 9 AM Pacific to hear the authors talk about their work on the Jefferson Exchange, hosted by Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland Oregon.


Stevie, I think that anyone would be inspired to hear the story of how Water: More or Less came to be, and especially how your periodic writing project (your ‘California Sketches’ column for the Sacramento Bee) developed. Can you talk about how your interest in water was first born, and how you started writing about it?

ST_headshot_dropsST: As a kid I spent a lot of time in or on water: pools, lakes, the American River. Later in LA, I lived four blocks from the beach. When the drought hit in the mid-70s—bricks in toilets, etc—I became aware that water wasn’t endless, that demands were too high. Once it started raining again everyone forgot about that drought. I didn’t forget.

We moved back to Sacramento in 1984, four blocks from the American River. That wild strip of precious land right through urban density gave me great solace.

In late 1996, I started a huge project for the San Francisco Hilton that included many murals and paintings. I had realized that the region is defined by the water that flows into the Bay, that I was seriously ignorant about where it comes from and where it goes. I decided I would paint Northern California watersheds, so I could learn.

About two years into writing essays for the Bee, I began to realize that many of the stories, in fact most of the stories, touched on water in some way. For example, the story about the Bok Kai Temple in Marysville: they say it was the god of the temple that saved Marysville from flooding in the 1950s. Though I was learning a lot, I realized so much more that I needed to understand. So I pitched my editor about doing a series on water in California—where it comes from and where it’s going. I said I could do the series in about 20 essays; he said I could do it in four.

So began an odyssey.

At what point did you pitch your work to the Bee, and what was the concept that you pitched to them? 

ST: I met an editor at a writer’s meetup. He said he was looking for creatives to write about California. I’d had this dream of combining my paintings with essay. I raised my hand and he looked at me like I was crazy—artists don’t write! So I ignored him, and on a trip to Tomales Bay, wrote a poem (I’m not a poet…), made a sketch and sent them to him anyway.

He said he’d get back to me, and of course he didn’t. So I pitched him again, this time on a concept about an orchard that I’d seen from the back of a Harley that had drilled a question into my head: why would someone destroy an orchard? And why didn’t I, a Sacramento-Valley-born fourth generation Californian, know the answer?

This time he said yes, and I was off on one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me—an opportunity to satisfy my endless curiosity about almost everything.

In-depth research has always been part of my methodology as a painter, as a lay historian, as someone inspired by location and how people relate to land and history—I spent six months researching my Amelia Earhart mural, up and down the state, and even interviewed her last official photographer, and several of her biographers!

The concept was that I would explore a place through photography and paintings, and write about what I saw. Creative exploration slows down time; things are revealed. I hope to bring the reader along with me perceptually. Combining visual and words enlivens and engages the reader—which is helpful when the issues are so complex and overwhelming. I figure that if I’m discovering something new, perhaps the reader is, too.

Can you say a little more about the kind of research that you did for your essays, and the kinds of relationships that developed out of the interviews you did? Many of those you consulted ended up contributing work to what ultimately became a collaborative manuscript, yes?

HooverDamST: I do too much research, my editor says! This whole process is just an excuse to meet the most amazing people. People who are passionate about their work—from oyster farmers to almond processing managers to water lawyers who’ve defined water rights law. I believe in shutting up and practicing the art of listening. People will talk and talk and tell me very wonderful, juicy things—their stories.

Everyone loves stories, first-hand accounts. Sometimes the individuals I interview are so frank that I can’t repeat what they say. I interviewed the fellow who was in charge of Shasta Lake and Dam for the Bureau of Reclamation, who made a fascinating comment about the level of Federal involvement in managing California that helped me begin to understand the extent and interdependency of the various water stake holders, that there is hardly any body of water that isn’t managed by some agency in some way—even the rivers we hope are still wild.

At Hetch Hetchy reservoir near Yosemite, I met a water manager who wouldn’t and couldn’t talk to me because of my role as a freelance Op-Ed contributor to the Bee. Because that reservoir supplies all of the Bay Area with water, he was afraid of speaking without permission.

One of the closest relationships I formed during my research was with the family from Drakes Bay Oysters—an outstanding example of aquaculture. I’d been visiting that magical place since 1974! The Federal Park Service wouldn’t talk to me, so I couldn’t present their direct point of view. I’ve stayed in contact with the family after they were forced to shut down the farm.

The concept of asking for contributions to the book was mine, because I needed expert voices that represented diverse opinions. This is where Rita became the key. We crafted an email asking people she knew to write 500-word personal essays about their experiences in and passion for water. Only two respondents responded in ‘policy voice.’

You started working on a proposal for the book a couple of years ago, aiming to find a publishing house that would acquire the manuscript, but you ultimately decided to start your own imprint, Pentimento Press. What have been the rewards of that decision? Were there any books out there like it that inspired its design?

ST: I pursued one publisher only because the book is California-centric. I started with my ‘California Sketches’ concept, but I refined the emphasis, the focus evolved into water more specifically. Then a journalist friend suggested I connect with a woman who she said knew more about water than anyone, who’d covered water for 34 years—Rita Schmidt Sudman, executive director of the Water Education Foundation. In a twist of fate, I already knew Rita—I had actually done a big water painting for her in 1997!

So we met again. As it turned out, she was about to retire. I told her she couldn’t possibly, that she had too much to offer, and that I really believed in this collaborative book concept. In the beginning, I needed her as an editor—but soon, she realized that this was an opportunity for her to synthesize her knowledge as a water journalist with her own essays, and that she had contacts that would help the contributor concept soar.

Last summer, we pitched the final concept. The publisher we singled out to approach rejected us outright, which hurt a lot because both my co-author and I had known this fellow for years. He just couldn’t see how it would come together, or fit his catalog.

pentimento_logo_12-30-15            Rita and I decided that a publisher would only slow us down, and that the smartest thing would be to compile the material and get it done ourselves, as quickly as possible (the California water situation being as pressing and time-sensitive an issue as it is!). Our plan was only feasible because I’ve been in print media for my entire career, and so has she. We had a clear vision of what we wanted to accomplish. We didn’t need—and we didn’t want—someone telling us what to do. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for both of us.

Now that the book is out, we’ve gone back to that publisher, to see if they’ll add it to their distribution network. We can’t succeed if we aren’t thick skinned and persistent as hell!

There’s still a bit of resistance to ‘self-published’ books, and for good reason. Any book needs expert editing, to which we had access. We joined the Independent Book Publishers Association and launched the imprint for Pentimento Press, “a small, independent art and architecture press”—and I hope to publish other authors under that imprint.

As for the design of the book: while I am a designer, I’m not a book designer. I looked at book designers, particularly the work of Peter Mendelsund. I knew I wanted a clean, consistent look that was also artistic, in support of the original art throughout the book. In designing the cover, we ended up running a Facebook poll with a series of idea sketches and soliciting community feedback. I’m thrilled we did that.

Who do you most want to find the book? What’s been the most exciting piece of feedback you’ve gotten about the book since its publication?

ST: Neither Rita or I are interested in a vanity project. I’ve never been the kind of artist who sits around waiting for someone to buy my art. I’m proactive—I think of ideas, and then go get a client. This book will speak to a huge existing market that includes the thousands of people who work in water directly (including water districts, lobbyists, policy experts, legislators, lawyers, engineers, biologists, Federal and state water managers, etc) and those who will engage water from other angles, like students.

We’ve only just started marketing the book. The book has gotten covered by twelve NPR stations in Sacramento and in Oregon—we are very excited at the response we’ve received so far from our readers and the public media. They say the book is beautiful—which seems meaningful since it’s on such a complicated subject. One of the most gratifying things we’ve heard so far came from a water engineer at a presentation that we gave, who said that he was thrilled to give a book to his family that would help them finally understand what it is that he actually does.


Want a copy of your own? Water: More or Less is (of course) available on Amazon, but a portion of your purchase price will go to the Water Education Foundation or the Sacramento Bee’s News in Education program if you purchase directly through either of the books’ official partners.

Interested in upcoming readings from Water: More or Less? Follow the authors on Facebook or contact Stevie to schedule a presentation and booksigning:

What one-on-one looks like

These are self-portraits of the five writers who are writing books with me in 2016.

Two of them are writing memoirs, one of them a hybrid biography, one of them a collection of poems, and one of them is actually working on two books simultaneously–a novel and a collection of short stories.


It just so happens that all five are women writers living somewhere in California.

None of them know each others’ names, but each of them know that they’re part of a tribe of five, and that their new pages are due to my inbox every Monday morning by 9 AM sharp, and that our commitments to each other are absolute.

So far, between the five of them, they’ve written about 1500 pages since the beginning of the year.

Just look at them.

I do not yet know whether I will have any openings for additional/new one-on-one clients in the second half of 2016, but if you’ve been thinking about doing this kind of work with me, you might want to check out this page and drop me an email sometime in the next month or so.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone.