Sands Hall to give fiction writing talk in Eleventh Hour

BY LU SHEN | JULY 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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Twenty-three years ago, when she was tired of her acting career in Los Angeles, “California girl” Sands Hall headed to Iowa City for the Writers’ Workshop.

Since then, she has had her hands in writing, teaching, directing, editing, acting, playwriting, and music. Now, she is focusing on teaching at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

Today, Hall will present “Into the Woods, Down to the Underworld” as the last Eleventh Hour lecture that is open to the public this summer at 11 a.m. in 101 Biology Building East.

She will address the strategies employed in fairy tales and myths and offer ways to unfold those ideas into fiction writing.

Hall, who teaches a course called Introduction to Myth and Fairy Tale at Franklin & Marshall College, said in many ways, fairy tales and myths cover some similar territory, and they also go in very different directions.

Hall said she noticed in fairy tales, there is always some literary writing about the protagonists going into the woods.

“They literally go into a forest, where things happen to them, and they learn something, and they get to come back to home,” she said. “But it’s that the journey into the woods taught them something. They’re not necessarily literal woods. There’s a darkness there.”

When it comes to myths, Hall agrees with the idea of a “hero’s journey” brought up by Joseph Campbell — in order for someone to be considered a hero, he orshe must descend to the end of the world in some way.

“If you look at mythology, you can sort of see although fairy tales often end happily, myths often have far more difficult and open-ended endings,” she said. “Often, the stories involve not just a single character but many characters around that character. So you can see the darknesses in underworld literally or some really dark territories.”

Hall said no matter the outcome of the story, characters will travel into a dark place first.

“[Whatever we are trying to write], we always have to take our characters into the darkness,” she said. “And usually they’d better have some recognition of some wrongdoing, or some error, or something that they could do better. Then they bring that back to their world and then, you know, the end.”

Since 1991, Hall has taught at the writing festival every year expect for the summer 2010 session.

Peggy Houston, who started the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in 1987, said she hired Hall in 1991 because she had faith in her teaching abilities.

“We’ve been good friends for many years,” Houston said. “I’ve just enjoyed what she has done for the program, because she’s such a good teacher and a good writer. People give her very high recommendations.”

Hall, who had been an actor for many years before pursuing an M.F.A from the Writers’ Workshop, said she is grateful for her acting career.

“For a long time, the acting forged forward, and the writing was kind of in the background,” Hall said. “And the last few years being a professor forged way forward, and then my writing life has been extremely consistent. Because of the professing, I’m able to have a very steady schedule with my writing, too. The music as the thing that most suffers, and I love it so much. I love playing and performing.”

Hall said she is amazed that she has been in Iowa City every summer because it’s great way to see colleagues and friends, especially her old friends Jane Murphy and Mark Brookfield.

“They were very helpful to me when I moved to town; they were wonderful to me,” she said. “So I always try to see them. It’s really fun.”

Murphy said seeing Hall’s progression in the program has been a great experience.

“It’s been so lovely to see her blossom as a writer and as a teacher so many years since then,” said Murphy who runs the Murphy-Brookfield Books bookstore with husband Brookfield.

“[Sands] is a very energetic and intensely focused woman,” Murphy said. “She’s such a creative spirit and has always been a writer.”

Murphy believes that Hall’s past will shape her in the future. 

“She’s a wonderful speaker,” Murphy said. “Her dramatic background has really helped her in many different fields. So she’s very good at her presentation.”

Hall’s presentation begins at 11 a.m.; it is open to the public.

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