28 Mar 2017

Let us suppose that an era comes, an era of undetermined length, where words come unmoored from meaning. A word like “compassionate” say. No problem. Easy enough to hang onto the definition: To be compassionate is to both understand and to mitigate another’s pain. But...

24 Mar 2017

In the foyer of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson hung maps. All the continents are there, Africa, Asia and so on, cartographed as they were known in the late eighteenth century. There are some close-ups, too, of the tidal basin and the mid-Atlantic states.

Bracketing the fr...

31 Jan 2017

We are in tumultuous times and it is easy to dismiss art, music, writing, maybe particularly writing fiction, as a luxury. I think it is anything but.

My friend, call her Lucy, is the daughter of two immigrants, her Protestant, British mom, who survived the Blitz in Lon...

8 Nov 2016

We write about the other with varying degrees of rigor and success. Homer’s default was narrow (white, male, hetero, warrior), but even that long ago he tasked himself with imagining his way into immortals. Chaucer wrote in the voice of a nun. Shakespeare’s cast includ...

4 Oct 2016

This spring I nearly declared a moratorium on violent fiction after reading three savage novels: The Orphan Master’s Son, The Sympathizer and A Little Life. Afterward life felt dirty. Basta!

After all, the news is horrific: a toddler refugee washes ashore, a white...

1 Aug 2016

Fail Faster, Succeed Quicker

The first time I saw “Fail faster, succeed quicker,” I was at an MIT robotics convention. Don’t ask. The idea being each failure teaches one to design a better experiment–or novel. More failures means more learning means, eventually, success...

18 May 2016

The Da Vinci Code is fast paced, a “page-turner.” Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is not. We don’t need Writer’s Digest to define narrative pace as how quickly or slowly the writer takes a reader through the story. And yet crafting pages that quicken (or slow...

5 Apr 2016

At the center of Emily Ross’s YA thriller Half in Love with Death is Caroline. Caroline is the dreamy middle child, younger sister of brash Jess. And last night Jess snuck out the bedroom window. She has not come home.

The perfect choice for narrator, Caroline is the o...

2 Apr 2016

The day Peyton Honeycutt gets his first period it’s a near calamity. Peyton was born female but is a boy. He holes up in the girls’ bathroom, too ashamed to come out. There he meets new girl, Tara Parks. And Tara becomes the object of his desire.

Early on Peyton and Tar...

29 Mar 2016

We are awash in narrative. It arrives on every platform in ever-shorter form. (A Little Life not withstanding.) Which has me wondering, who has the time to dwell in a Brontë moor? And what’s the pay off?

Setting: A History

Nearly 3000 years ago, Homer* described 190** sh...

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© 2020 by Lisa Birk. 


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