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Inside Look

Plot is Not a Four-Letter Word


By Derek Nikitas, Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio

Didn’t see that coming?

I lucked out in grad school. A handful of my professors weren’t allergic to plot. They understood and explained the deep value of narrative structure, traditional and experimental.  

Often, workshops focus on the finished draft with little mention of process. Strategizing itself is sometimes met with suspicion. But still, some of my deepest insights into story came from sessions where my mentors addressed the scaffolding of story, the blueprint, even before it was written. We worked through faults in story logic and rifts in causality, the “contract with the reader,” dips in interest and the fundamental importance of the turn, the rhetoric of character action, the setups, the payoffs.   

The Summer of My Disquiet

By Joseph Nichols, Graduate Assistant, Bluegrass Writers Studio

            Last June, I disembarked from an early morning Portuguese airplane.  Two hours and a trip through customs later, my feet hit the cobblestoned streets of Lisbon, Portugal.  Temporal and spatial regularities ceased to exist; the city seemed timeless, the air felt, oddly, both British and Spanish at the same time. 

            I had arrived. 

            Six months prior, I had arranged that arrival to precede my fellow graduate students by a day, maybe two at the most.  I wanted a chance to acquaint myself with the city; I wanted the opportunity to forget the states.  More than anything, I wanted a cheaper ticket. 

Low-Res MFA for Novelists

By Derek Nikitas, Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio

Some fiction writers are born novelists. Your idea-seed blossoms into a full-blown sycamore overnight. No delicate rose bushes for you. Luckily, The Bluegrass Writers Studio low-residency MFA program has a place for folks like you and me.

Say you’ve got a thick stack of manuscript pages tied up in a box (or filed away on Dropbox, or still waiting in the database called your brain). It needs work, and you want readers, you want mentorship. Say you’ve built a rich fantasy world, or your own unique vision of Appalachia or Los Angeles, but you need to find some narrative scaffolding.

Rocking the Hot Key: Online Workshops in a Low-Residency MFA

By Derek Nikitas, Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio

    All writers crave feedback.

     Okay, maybe some writers would just prefer we wordlessly bask in their genius, but I’ll guess if you’re interested in pursuing an MFA in creative writing, it’s because you want to be a better writer. And that means getting people to look at your stuff.

     Creative writing workshops come in all flavors, but what they have in common is that it takes a village to raise a writer. You exchange work, read it, and share advice. You’re in it together. You have the benefit of a captive audience, and that’s a rare gift, well worth the attendant jitters.

Kentucky Poetry, Well Aged

By Joseph Nichols, Graduate Assistant, Bluegrass Writers Studio   

            Though I was born and raised in Frankfort, Kentucky, the U.S. Navy saw fit to ship me all over, and outside of, the country.  Believe me when I say, then, I am well aware the mention of our state name immediately conjures a variety of connotations. A few of these could even be called distinctions.



            Above all, bourbon.

MFA: Genre, the Final Frontier

By Joseph Nichols, Graduate Assistant, Bluegrass Writers Studio

            There is something to be said for understanding your place as a writer. With that “something” almost said, I have never been comfortable with harshly drawn lines between genres or mediums.

            Wendell Berry once discussed his degree program and the horrid nature of having to pick between writing focuses. As far as the universities were concerned, he had to either be a poet or a nonfiction writer. Most programs force you to pick a focus, such as poetry, and the courses from which you choose are within that focus. In the majority of the MFA programs I found, I would have been forced to make a decision: What do I write (or, more importantly, what will I show future employers/publishers as credentials for what I am trained to read/write)?

The Time-Keeper’s Ax: Prose Writers, Beware

By Nancy Jensen, Associate Professor, Bluegrass Writers Studio

     Every prose writer who has worked up the courage to agree to participate in a public reading has faced the same gleaming ax: the time limit.  Poet-envy sets in immediately, because even if readers are limited to a slender five minutes each, every poet in the crowd can read one complete poem—sometimes as many as four complete poems—and still have thirty seconds to spare.  But for the non-poets among us, the time-limit always carries the implied message: Abandon all hope, ye Prose Writers, who enter here.

     It doesn’t matter, either, if the time limit is more generous.  Whether it’s eight minutes, fifteen or twenty-five, as a prose writer, you will never find a single, complete piece that fits perfectly.

Pass the Poe... er, the Morrison

By Doug Brewer, Bluegrass Writers Studio

            I chose the Bluegrass Writers Studio in no small part because of its low-residency, rather than residency, format. Like most writers, I suspect, I am most comfortable when sitting in my office alone with my computer or a pad and pen. Nobody cares if I haven’t had a shower in a couple days, and there’s very little of that whole eye contact thing.

            On the other hand, what really makes the program tick for me is the annual Winter Residency in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s a magical thing, taking thirty or forty socially awkward people who would rather be flying solo with their words, and throwing them all together in a Hilton without anyone exploding.

Bluegrass Writers Studio MFA Residency: Winter Welcome

By Derek Nikitas, Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio

The Bluegrass Writers Studio low-residency MFA Winter Residency 2014 in Lexington, Kentucky has reached its end. We had a fantastic roster of writers.

I thought a nice way to celebrate would be to post some of the opening remarks I delivered at the start of the residency. I like to think it captures the spirit of our program:

Welcome, everyone, to the sixth annual Bluegrass Writers Studio Winter Residency. To those of you who’ve spent a chilly first chunk of January with us before in the Lexington Downtown Hilton, veteran workshoppers, student reading survivors, witnesses to the mysterious brassiere incident of 2013, we welcome you back.

Zack Wagman: Sucker-Punched

By Zack Wagman, Senior Editor at Crown Publishing and Bluegrass Writers Studio Guest

     In NY book publishing, when editors are talking about novels at editorial meetings, at business lunches, or anywhere really, we often fall back on cliché to convey our excitement: "I missed my subway stop" or "I was up all night."  For me, when I first read Save Yourself, I could not fall back on those clichés.  I was in a drab corporate flat, 5000 miles away from my editorial meeting, my colleagues, and my publisher. 

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