Ivy Pochoda is an accomplished writer and a wonderful teacher, and, lucky you, she will be teaching Novel I this fall. Go to our classes page to see the course description, and email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in enrolling.
We asked Ivy a few questions about teaching, writing, and reading. Dang, that girl is smart.
You recently sold your second novel, to be published by Ecco/HarperCollins. What’s it called, and what do you tell people when they ask you what it’s about?
My novel is called Visitation Street. It’s set in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a fairly isolated, waterfront neighborhood that’s cut off from the rest of the borough. The novel follows the neighborhood’s reaction after a fifteen year old girl goes missing out on the water. It’s told from five points of view, but Red Hook itself is an much of a character as any of the people in the book.
You’re teaching Novel Writing I for WWLA. What’s the best piece of advice you ever got about writing? The worst?
The best piece of advice is: write a book you want to read. I know this sounds silly, but it really helped me.
The worst: You can’t mix first and third person in a book. Hey, if it works, why not?
How would you describe your teaching style? Do you have any philosophies about writing and reading that you bring to the classroom?
The most important element of my teaching style is, first and foremost, to encourage people to write. In a class such as Novel I, just getting over the fear of “what happens next” is such a major challenge that I like to create an environment where the emphasis on writing is supreme. Obviously, when starting a novel, no writer is sure where the story is going, so I like to encourage my students to try different pathways and not get hung up on the details. If something doesn’t make it into the final draft, so be it!
What kind of writing exercises do you like to throw at your students?
I like to have my students rewrite a scene (or a portion of a scene) from a different point of view. I think examining at something from a different angle brings depth and detail and might often be overlooked.
What’s one of your favorite novels, and why?
Gosh. Well, in trying to answer this question I scanned my bookshelves and realized that I really like multi-perspective, intricate novels. I love when a novel with a seemingly complex construction unfolds to reveal a wonderfully logical and straightforward story, for instance, Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, A Visit from the Goon Squad and Look at Me by Jennifer Egan, and Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. I think I started gravitating towards these types of book after reading Charles Dickens’ large social novels which seemed daunting at first, but turned out to be delightful and surprisingly fun.