Lit Lesson #17: Oh Pioneers by Willa Cather: Which Plot?

…the time will come when she’ll be ranked above Hemingway. ~ Leon Edel “My God, girl,  what a head of hair!” he exclaimed, quite innocently and foolishly. She stabbed him with a glance of Amazonian fierceness and drew in her lower lip, most unnecessary severity… …and we are off on a story about Alexandra the only daughter of a Swedish farmer about to die. Alexandra was an unusual heroine of her time, strong, smart, and more, clever. She sacrifices...

Lit Lesson #16: Incorporating Feedback

From Flight School: 4/24/22 After that first time up to read, I developed a system of going through the commentary from Tom and the other writers page by page and transferring all their marks onto a my master set of pages. Praise. Typographical errors. Line edits. Everything. Next, I sat down and typed the feedback into my computer copy. If a suggestion bugged me, I didn’t cast it aside. Rather, I looked at this feedback a couple extra times to see what bugged me. If I still couldn’t make it...

Lit Lesson Submission Guidelines:

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ~ Anais Nin If you are on the path to becoming a published writer, Blackbird is devoted to supporting you with a format for publication: Lit Lessons. This isn’t just a blog, or newsletter (as some call it). This is a place to capture the teachings here at the Studio and bring them into concrete form. It is also a place for you to share your voice through your own creative insights. We hope you’ll consider...

Lit Lesson #15: God of Small Things

Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one. ~ John Berger This Berger quote opens The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, a literary novel released in 1997 that went on to win the Booker Prize. It was Roy’s first book, and took her many years to write (you can certainly deduce this when you note her remarkable care and attention to detail and language). This post is the result of three weeks of conversation about a literary novel that makes the reader...

Lit Lesson #14: How Do I Get Published?

“…don’t worry about publication…”  ~ Abigail Thomas If I had a nickel for the number of times I’ve been asked this question, well, you know the rest. But it still comes at me year after year. “How do I get published?” It’s an important question, a necessary question, a bit of a driving-question because we writers want to cross that finish line. But often a writer asks the question too soon in the process and this is important because the...

Lit Lesson # 13: Classic Stories that Miss the Mark and Why

We dance around in a ring and suppose; but the secret sits in the middle and knows. ~ Robert Frost Out here among the trees and wide open sky and the endless chatter of birds nesting, I’ve been thinking about the way we have come to accept the simple conclusions offered in a lot of our best stories. I’m talking about easy endings like the girl gets the guy or the other way around. Fame is achieved. A house purchased. Or the hero gets rich. These endings result in “egoic...

Lit Lesson #12: Is Moral Transformation in Story a “Radical” Notion?

What YOU already know about good storytelling thanks to your study of structure and plot We’ve wrapped two weeks of study on the Tolstoy short story, Master and Man, which came to us from the collection of Russian stories contained in A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by G. Saunders. And this is the last story we’ll be studying too. It was a doozy… Master and Man by Leo Tolstoy I read Master and Man and did so multiple times. And, I respected those in the classes who just...

Lit Lesson #11: Thoughts on Contemporary Memoir

(This post, Thoughts on Contemporary Memoir, comes from Flight School, a site devoted to teachings for memoir writers) Confession time…I don’t read a lot of memoir these days. 😲 I’ve read many, many over the years, and many novels too. And, I devoted myself to reading a pile of memoirs when writing my own. BUT…I don’t read many contemporary memoirs because I find myself feeling…well…how to say this kindly…put back. I want to love them, and the writing is always stellar, but in the end I often...

Lit Lesson #10: Writing and Astrology

If you’ve studied with me for any length of time, you are more than familiar with my referencing “mercury retrograde” or “full moons.” More than once, I’ve also quoted Jane Smiley from 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, who says Virgo’s make the best writers. “I challenge anyone to match September 23 through September 30—F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Marina Tsvetayeva, William Blake, and Miguel Cervantes. And I used to add (to...

Lit Lesson #9: What I Learned from the Novel, There There, by Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange We’ve wrapped three weeks on this book, and I’ve taught nine classes with about thirty writers, examining the novel from nearly every craft perspective possible: Plot, voice, POV, and structure while asking through teacherly questions like: Can we find a hero in a book with twelve characters? Can we find a plot from the deck of plots we study? Is there a structure that adheres to the three part form? But this was also a teaching that needed to stretch us beyond our usual course of...