Jessica Page Morrell

Jessica Page Morrell

Chanticleer: Give me a little bit about your background – Who is Jessica Morrell? 
Jessica Morrell:  I’m the author of six traditionally-published books, five which teach authors how to write. I’ve written hundreds of columns, articles, blog posts, and my work appears in 8 anthologies about writing. I’ve been teaching writers for more than 25 years and work as a developmental editor. This means a writer or author sends me a manuscript and I dissect it and then help him or her put it back together so it’s publishable. I bring a discriminating, ruthless eye to manuscripts, and fix plot holes and wayward dialogue and everything in between. I learn each time I work on a manuscript and some days my brain feels close to bursting. I love what I do.
Chanticleer: Tell me a little bit about the Master Class you will be offering next Sunday during #CAC18, Learning from the Greats. Who would benefit most from taking this class?
Jessica Morrell: Any fiction writer can benefit from this workshop.  Writers have 2 main tasks: writing whenever possible and reading often. But reading as a writer requires a special focus and analysis. You need to understand why authors make choices and decisions along the way; why their details are important, how the ending resonates or doesn’t quite satisfy. Close reading teaches us narrative and scene structure, how to create authentic dialogue, how to insert tension and subtext, and how themes underscore drama.
Chanticleer: This is going to be an important class for all authors. Tell me, what’s the best way to prepare for this class?
Jessica Morrell: The workshop will open by outlining the many techniques that writers have at their disposable. From there we’ll be discussing Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and 3 contemporary short stories (Silver Water, Amy Bloom,  For Something to Do, Elmore Leonard, and Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood.)
Chanticleer: At the end of this article, Jessica has provided us with titles and links to these stories. It would be wise to familiarize yourself with these works before class next Sunday. So, Jessica, why these authors? Why these books? 
Jessica Morrell: Mockingbird, also a film, has remained a beloved American classic over the decades. We’re going to dissect why it’s so esteemed and memorable. The other authors Elmore Leonard, Amy Bloom, and Margaret Atwood are simply fabulous writers with techniques we can all emulate. Or at least try to.
Chanticleer: Jessica, our attendees will learn so much from your workshops. Your classes are unlike any other I’ve seen. You really do put authors to work – and the payoff is exponential!

Jessica Morrell:  To paraphrase Stephen King, reading is your job. Or a big part of your job. If you breeze through stories without thought or analysis, you’re missing both the joys of insider knowledge and the lessons you’ll always need. Reading inspires and is a cheap, private pleasure. And because writers never stop learning.

Learning from the Greats 

A Master Writing Craft Class taught by Jessica Morrell

To succeed as a writer you need to write a lot and read from a writer’s perspective. Without this level of analysis writers simply don’t have all the tools at their disposal. In this workshop, we’ll work together to uncover the secrets of great authors, reveal the intricacies of craft, and trace authors’ influences and habits. We’ll further analyze how great authors reflect their time period and find fresh ways to manipulate language.

Texts to be discussed: 

Silver Water, Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom has been a fresh, urgent voice in American fiction since her first collection of short stories;   Come to Me was published in 1998.  Bloom is also a novelist, but her short stories are particularly insightful in their brevity and often track marginalized people and uncomfortable issues like sexual identity and mental illness. A former psychotherapist, she brings keen insights into her characters, imbuing them with tiny, yet penetrating brushstrokes that nail their struggles and psyches. Writers can learn her art of compression, her authentic character voices, featuring flawed but fascinating characters.


To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

An American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of a Southern family and small-town embroiled in a racially-charged scandal and trial.  Readers can learn so much from the story—a searing history lesson, how to teach your kids valuable life lessons, how outsiders and kids see society. Through analysis, writers can learn how to capture a child’s sensibility, how to teach morality without being preachy or gooey, and how to stage a surprise ending. Other techniques we’ll study: the role of the narrator POV, writing a compelling static character, and how coming-of-age meets character arc with young characters.


For Something to Do, Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard was a wildly popular writer who wrote more than 40 novels,  dozens of short stories, movie adaptations, and a popular TV series including, Justified. Stephen King called him, “The great American writer,” and The New York Times called him, “The greatest crime writer of his time, perhaps ever.”  He’s known for tightrope tension, crackling, realistic dialogue, and memorable, bad ass characters up to their ears in serious trouble. But a closer look reveals other techniques worthy of emulating: how to depict pathos in a character, how honor and morality can found in unexpected places, how subtext works in a dialogue scene, how to stage twists, and how conflict is layered and always simmering.


Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood

Besides her many novels, some now turned into televisions series, Atwood is a prolific short story writer. In this story, a woman meets an old friend 50 years after their high school days, she plots his murder. Or will she go through with it?  We’re going to analyze this story for its delicious use of details, suspense, and subtext, along with her deft inclusion of backstory, and an overall tone of disquiet. We’ll discuss how Atwood pulls us in from the first sentence: “From the onset, Verna never intended to murder anyone. What she had in mind was a vacation, pure and simple.”

More links to blog posts by Jessica Morrell