When you’re used to working with inmates at a med-ium security prison, working with a group of eighth graders for the first time is a piece of cake.
Actually it probably isn’t that different. A writer is a writer, and Eric Fritzius, a member of West Virginia Writers, Incorporated, helps people of all ages and backgrounds find the writer inside.
“It’s probably not going to be that different,” Fritzius said.
Friday, Fritzius met with the eighth graders from Green Bank Elementary-Middle School at the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace and led them in a writing workshop to improve their creative writing skills.
Fritzius prompted the students to write about their first memory.
“You guys are experts on your life,” he said. “You can look back on the events in your memory – some of the major events in your life will be more vivid than others – and you can sometimes smell the biscuits baking in an oven if you think back as clearly as you can.”
When telling a story, Fritzius said it is important to be as descriptive as possible and to use what he calls “mental telepathy.”
“It’s communicating mind to mind,” he said. “You’re putting an image from your mind into the mind of a reader using only words on paper. That’s pretty amazing. I stress to my students that despite the limitations they have on them in their prison, they can write from their life experiences and pass those on.”
The setting of the Stutlting House was appropriate for prompting students to write about their memories because much of Pearl S. Buck’s writings were inspired by individuals she met and were based on her time in China.
“I’m not a Pearl S. Buck scholar, so I couldn’t tell you if she based any of her characters on specific people she knew, but she certainly knew people that were that type of person, so it informed her fiction – gave her, essentially, research for all she was doing or wrote later,” Fritzius said.
Fritzius draws from personal experiences to create a story, or simply expands on an event from his life and adds fictional pieces to beef up the story.
“We so often have stories fall into our laps from our own lives, or things we hear, and I like to draw from that in my writing to some degree,” he said. “I guess every one of my stories has bits of me in them, but I also write a series of stories that are based on direct analogs to me and members of my family. I can tell old family stories or make stuff up that could have happened, and feel true, but never happened.”
Along with Friday’s workshop, Fritzius gave a writing workshop Saturday which was similar to what he did with the students.
“It’s a big boy version of this,” he said. “More writing from our lives, different workshop exercises, writing exercises to help stimulate our brains to cough up these stories. Then, once we’ve coughed them up, which ones seem more ripe than others for turning into, and I also stress, you’re welcome to keep it non-fiction. I love non-fiction.”
“I write a series called ‘The Horribly True Tales,’ which I take awful things I’ve gone through that are funny in retrospect, that I can dial up the funny on,” he continued. “I’m not changing the facts, just dialing up my perception to bring the funny. That’s kind of an angle they might consider taking, too.”
Fritzius has published a collection of stories titled A Consternation of Monsters. He is also a playwright –several of his plays have been performed at Greenbrier Valley Theater in Lewisburg, and two of his short plays were part of PlayFest, which he also directed, at the Pocahontas County Opera House.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org