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About The Instructors

Sherman Alexie Headshot. He is teaching a writing class about writing your cancellation story.

Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is a poet, short story writer, novelist, essayist, memoirist, and filmmaker. He’s published two dozen books, including The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was listed by the American Library Association as the Most Banned and Challenged Book from 2010 to 2019. He’s won the PEN-Faulkner and PEN-Malamud awards, and he wrote and co-produced the award-winning film Smoke Signals, which was based on his short story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

You can learn more about him and his class for The Unspeakeasy by listening to this episode of The Unspeakable Podcast.

Visit Sherman’s Substack.


Check out his upcoming course here.


Sam Wolfson

Tell us about your process. 

Writing to me is 90% wandering around, totally in my head, thinking about what a scene should be, and 10% actually writing the scene.  I never sit down to write at a certain time of day for a set amount of time.  My process is sort of like Tim Robbins in Shawshank, chipping away at the tunnel in his cell whenever he has a free second to do it, inch by inch, and eventually (if I’m lucky) breaking through to the other side.   

What makes a script great?  

For me, it all starts with the idea.  A truly original idea, written horribly, can still make a pretty good movie.   I always say the idea has to be like a nuclear reactor — is has to be strong enough and generate enough energy to push the story forward for 100 pages, because most ideas will run out of steam way before that.  

What’s your favorite screenplay of all time, and why?  

Tootsie.  Every scene is perfect.  A ridiculous idea played absolutely straight and real, and can make you laugh and cry.  Pretty much everything I write, I’m basically trying to write Tootsie.  

Describe your teaching style. 

I’m much more focused on looking at a story holistically, than nick picking every little thing along the way.  While the small details and learning about craft are obviously important, none of that matters if you don’t really understand why you’re writing something, why you picked a particular idea, what you want people to take away from your film, and why a particular scene in your script even exists.  Any answers to those questions are perfectly legitimate, but you still have to know the answer.   

How will your Unspeakeasy workshop be different from all the other workshops out there?  

We have a very strict no-asshole policy that will be strictly enforced.

Caeli Option 2.jpg

Caeli Widger

What is your process?

Start no later than 6 am. Nothing good happens on the page afternoon. Drink coffee but not too much. After that, switch to La Croix and lots of gum. Write NO TEXTING on a sticky note in Sharpie and hang it at eye level. Install an internet blocker on your computer and pre-program it for your writing hours. Write your first draft from the gut, with as little conscious filter as possible. Impose your rational mind gradually onto each subsequent draft in the form of structure, world-
building, pacing, suspense, and deep character work. Revise and revise until you have nothing left to give. Do not stop until you love your characters more than your own family. (okay, almost.) Do not stop until you are scraped clean. Collapse and vow you’ll never do it again. Do it again.

What books have taught you the most about writing fiction?

Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry: You read that right. Turns out nobody writes the female psyche—and particularly the forcefield of the mother-daughter relationship—better than a dude from Texas. I love this book because it’s a great, high-stakes family story full of complex and lovable characters, but also because it’s a triumph of point-of-view work. Never seen the movie and never will. I love the book too much to risk meddling with my experience.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: Maybe it was on your 7th-grade English syllabus. Maybe you skipped it because, well, the title is boring and Brooklyn tenements in the early 1900s are not a ton of fun. Maybe you think it’s a kid’s book. Maybe you read it but can’t really remember. Whatever the case, if you aspire to write great stories or novels, I command you to go buy a dusty copy in some thrift store (they’re always there) and settle into a master class in fiction. You not only come to know Smith’s characters, but you become them as you read. You
feel what they feel, down into your bones. You will ugly cry. You’re welcome!

Describe your teaching style.

I don’t teach as much as I facilitate discussion that focuses first on what’s working (and believe me, there’s something working in every piece written with integrity—even if we have to search to find it), and then how the author might develop the piece in later drafts. I lead the group through the usual suspects of craft-talk – POV, characterization, storyline, etc. – but more importantly, we aim to identify why a story must exist and how the author can make readers care deeply about it. Basically, it’s a guided group conversation that becomes magically insightful – trust me.


How will your Unspeakeasy workshop be different from all the other workshops out there?  

Write whatever the hell you want, from any point of view, on any subject, as long as you’re committed to making your fiction honest, compassionate, and fully-realized.

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