Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967), the American journalist, author, and poet was known for her acid wit and for being one of the founding members of the Algonquin Roundtable, an exclusive group of eminent New York City writers in the early twentieth century. She was born Dorothy Rothschild in West End, New Jersey, the product of an unhappy home life.

Parker got her start by writing for magazines, including theatre criticism for Vanity Fair. In the 1920s, she became known for her book review column, Constant Reader, in the New Yorker. Her reviews — some snarky, others sensitive, always pithy — were a pleasure to read. The magazine also published some of her short stories.  “Big Blonde,” one of her most widely read short stories, won the O. Henry Award in 1929.  Other well-known works included Enough Rope, Here Lies, and Laments for the Living. Read More→

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How Betty MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Came to the Page

Looking for Betty MacDonald by Paula Becker

Betty MacDonald (1907 – 1958) was an American author of humorous memoirs and children’s books. The Egg and I, her bestselling 1945 memoir of running a chicken farm in rural Washington State in the late 1920s, catapulted her to international fame. Her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books for children were also hugely successful. From Paula Becker’s 2016 biography, Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I, here’s the story of how Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle came to the page and became a series:

As sales of The Egg and I soared, Lippincott eagerly sought to capitalize on Betty’s success. Accordingly, fifteen months after Egg made its debut, the publisher introduced Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. The book was a collection of children’s stories about a wise, kind, magical woman who gently but firmly assisted errant children and their beleaguered parents. Betty dedicated Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to her daughters, nieces, and nephews, “who are perfect angels and couldn’t possibly have been the inspiration for any of these stories.” Read More→

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“My Head is My Study”: Developing Plots and Characters

Louisa May Alcott

One of my favorite quotes on writing is from Louisa May Alcottthe author of Little Women and numerous other classics.  She said: “My methods of work are very simple and soon told. My head is my study, & there I keep the various plans of stories for years sometimes, letting them grow as they will till I am ready to put them on paper. … While a story is under way I lie in it, see the people, more plainly than the real ones, round me, hear them talk, & am much interested, surprised, or provoked at their actions.”  (from a letter to a journalist, 1887)

During the writing of my first ten or eleven novels, I always had from one to four babies, toddlers, and preschoolers underfoot. I desperately loved writing fiction, and I longed for the day when I could sit down at the typewriter, take a deep breath, close my eyes in solitude, and think about what I wanted to say. Developing plots and characters is challenging when time is at a premium Read More→

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The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks (1960) – a review

Gwendolyn Brooks at her desk

From the original review of The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks in the El Paso Herald-Post, by F.A. Ehmann (El Paso, Texas, April, 1960): The most frequent complaints against modern poetry are that it is difficult to understand, its meaning is vague, and that it is written for critics to explicate, not for readers to enjoy.

None of these complaints can be directed at Gwendolyn Brooks’ latest volume, The Bean Eaters. She has an excellent sense of form, and perhaps more important, she has a competent control of words. Read More→

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Should writers draw characters and plots from real life?

Ivy Compton-Burnett

Dear Literary Ladies,
How much should real life supply a writer with characters and plots? Should we be looking for people to base our fictional characters on, and stories upon which to model our plots?

“I think that actual life supplies a writer with characters much less than is thought. Of course there must be a beginning to every conception, but so much change seems to take place in it at once, that almost anything comes to serve the purpose — a face of a stranger, a face in a portrait, almost a face in the fire.

And people in life hardly seem to be definite enough to appear in print. They are not good or bad enough or clever or stupid enough, or pitiful enough. They would have to be presented by means of detailed description, and would not come through in talk. I think that the reason why a person is often angered by a supposed portrait of himself, is that the author leaves in some recognizable attributes, while the conception has altered so much that the subject is justified in thinking there is no resemblance. Read More→

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Aphra Behn and the Beginnings of a Female Narrative Voice

Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn (1640 – 1689) is a forerunner in English literary history in more ways than one; she is not only the first professional woman writer, she is also an important innovator in the form of the novel. Using the epistolary form of Lettres Portugaises as a model and combining it with elements of the drama, with Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister she created the first true epistolary novel. In Oroonoko she used a narrative voice that combined proximity to her readers with an unusual wealth of detail, while the plot itself involves one of the first examples of the concept of the “noble savage” in literature.

In her search for a prose form appropriate to stories with contemporary rather than purely heroic settings and themes, Behn wrote her novels in a conversational tone strewn with personal references such as “I have already said…” or “I forgot to ask how…” making the narrative resemble an ongoing conversation with her readers and lending her tales a more everyday tone than was usually the case in earlier prose forms. Read More→

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