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First Drafts: The Delight of the Surprise

This afternoon, Cathy and I made our first pilgrimage of the growing season to Bambi’s Produce Market a few miles out in the country from where we live. Sunday afternoons, so it seems, are perfect for such trips, partly because we have the time and partly because such drives remind me of similar ones I used to go on with my parents when I was a child in southeastern Illinois. “Let’s take a ride,” my father would say, and off we’d go. We had no destination and no purpose. We merely drove for the sake of driving. We never knew [...]

By |2019-06-24T08:07:52-04:00June 24th, 2019|Blog|5 Comments

Driven by Desire: Character and Incident

"What is character but the determination of incident?” Henry James wrote. “What is incident but the illustration of character?” The desire need not be for something grand, but it does need to be intense enough to put a character into action. Take, for example, the father in Holly Beth Pratt’s “Nighttime Ride.” Here’s the opening paragraph: The dad had a sweet tooth; it was something fierce. When it got ahold of him, no matter where he was—clearing invasives on the job, taking the kids for a weekend, eating his one-pan dinner—he had to satisfy it, like if he didn’t it [...]

By |2019-06-17T07:35:54-04:00June 17th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Pressure Points in Narratives

I’ve told this story before, so please excuse me for telling it again. It has so much to do with everything I want to say about pressure points in narrative. On the last night that my mother lived independently, a package addressed to her neighbor was accidentally delivered to her. My mother was a kind woman who believed in being a good neighbor, so she put on her coat and a rain hat—the kind women of a certain generation kept folded in their pocketbooks—and prepared to take the package to its rightful owner. This was in early March in southeastern [...]

By |2019-06-10T07:59:28-04:00June 10th, 2019|Blog|4 Comments

We Were Here: Subversive Precision

I was eighteen in 1974 when I picked up my now-wife, Cathy, for our first date. It was the era of 8-track tape players in cars, and I had a Craig in my Plymouth Duster. The tape I played that night, as I drove to the Avalon Theater, was Elton John’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. Its best known tracks were “Daniel” and “Crocodile Rock.” I was particularly fond of the latter, and am to this day. Cathy doesn’t remember any of this, but trust me, it’s true. I told her as much today when we were [...]

By |2019-06-03T13:13:44-04:00June 3rd, 2019|Blog|6 Comments

Decorating a Scene: Description in Narrative

Here we are on Memorial Day, and our peonies are in bloom. These showy, fragrant flowers were in every bouquet that my mother always made to set upon our family’s graves on what we then called Decoration Day. I look forward to their buds opening this time of year, not only because I enjoy their colors—ours are hot pink and creamy white—and their perfume, but also because they connect me to this family tradition. The flowers, then, are more than decorative. They’re also evocative. They summon an emotional response that comes from my mourning for a childhood, now gone, as [...]

By |2019-05-27T09:10:09-04:00May 27th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

Lives of Splendor: Characters and Free Will

This morning at breakfast, a large group—too large to sit at a single table—came into the restaurant. Half of them sat at one table, and the other half took an adjacent table, which was behind where Cathy and I were sitting. I really didn’t take much notice of them until I heard a man’s voice behind me say, “Aaron, do you want to sit over here?” Mind you, at this time, I had no way of knowing whether the Aaron being addressed was a male or a female. “Aaron,” the man said, “do you want to be a little girl? [...]

By |2019-05-20T07:35:37-04:00May 20th, 2019|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Ten Precepts for the Writing Life

Here on Mother’s Day, I offer these ten precepts for mothering the craft:   1.         Accept the fact that the majority of people have no idea how a writer works and has no appreciation of what a writer does. That guy at the gym who squints at your Iron Horse Literary Review tee-shirt with a puzzled look? There are millions like him. There are many more like him than there are like you. There’s nothing you can do to change that fact. Put the thought of it out of your head and keep writing.   2.         Make your writing part [...]

By |2019-05-13T07:11:30-04:00May 13th, 2019|Uncategorized|13 Comments

Time and Narrative in Memoir

When it comes to writing memoir, we can never give full expression to an entire life. We have too much from which to choose—too much time, too many moments, too many characters, too many questions. We can, though, find a narrative arc that, if handled skillfully, will contain more of the past, the present, and the future than the literal timeline of the memoir can dramatize. I call this timeline, even though it may be happening solely in the past, the dramatic present. I’m talking about the narrative arc comprised of events happening in chronological order in a select period [...]

By |2019-05-06T05:49:33-04:00May 6th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

The Last Time: Using the Past to See the Present and the Future

Last night, at The Ohio State University, we commemorated the conferring of MFAs on this year’s class with a gala reading from their work. We call this event Epilog. I’ve always wondered why whoever named the event didn’t go with the preferred spelling, Epilogue, but, no matter, the meaning is the same: an addition that comes at the end of a literary work. So here we are at the end of things, which, as we all know, is really the beginning of something else, something yet to be defined, something yet to come. I’m thinking about how writing about last [...]

By |2019-04-29T03:46:37-04:00April 29th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments

Writing into the Mysterious and the Unresolved

On this Easter Sunday, I’m thinking of the small country church I attended when I was a small boy. The Berryville Church of Christ sat on a gravel road just south of the crossroads where my grandmother lived cattycorner from the general store. There wasn’t much to Berryville: that store, two churches, a defunct school, and a handful of houses. The Church of Christ was a white clapboard building with a brick chimney, windows along its sides, and the door through which we entered each Sunday, intent on salvation. I’m over sixty years beyond the time I’m recalling, but I [...]

By |2019-04-22T08:37:28-04:00April 22nd, 2019|Blog|5 Comments