Gatsby and the End of Summer

Tomorrow, I leave bright and early for Vermont which explains why I’m posting this today. For the past thirteen years, I’ve taught at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference. I often teach a workshop in the novel, and when I do, I ask my participants to read The Great Gatsby. That novel…

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A Message Box: Objects and Memoirs

Because my father was a farmer, we barely knew what it was to take a vacation. There were crops to tend and livestock to feed, and God forbid our cattle got out of their pasture, as they sometimes did, and we weren’t there to corral them. All through my childhood, I only remember us going…

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Family Secrets

It’s 1961, and my wife Cathy, nearly four years old at the time, is sitting with her great-aunt Tom on a stone bench alongside a brick building on Fulton Avenue in Evansville, Indiana. They’re sitting in the shade watching a rabbit hop about and nibble at grass blades. Her grandfather and grandmother have told her…

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Let’s Be Bold: Tips for Creating Unique Writing

Cathy and I had our house painted last week. We chose a color called Dress Blues for the front, a color that’s almost navy but not quite. When the first coat went on, we were mortified. It was electric blue, neon blue, Pepsi can blue. It hurt the eyes. Boy, did it ever. The painter…

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Forgetting the Facts: Imagination and the True Story

Many of my novels are based in fact. I start with the real story, and then I invite my imagination to blend with what really happened. I create characters who had nothing to do with the factual story. I alter events, reshaping the narrative with the hope of making a memorable story. The facts give…

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Finding a Community of Writers

Since I’ve begun teaching in the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University, I thought I’d take this opportunity to encourage anyone who may be thinking about enrolling in a low-residency MFA program to consider this one. I’d also like to talk about the things one can gain from the best writing conferences and…

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The Marks We Leave Behind: A Writing Exercise for Memoirists

After my father died, I found the marks he’d left: the wooden handles of tools, scraped and splintered from the pincers of his prosthetic hands—his hooks as he always called them; the clamped edges of pages in his Bible from where he’d held them. I can still recall him sitting at our dining table, working…

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What We Know Now That We Didn’t Know Then

For the second summer, Cathy and I are renting space in a community garden. We have a 4-foot by 12-foot raised bed. We’ve enjoyed our spring plantings of lettuce, spinach, and radishes, and now we’re watching the summer crops take hold: peppers, tomatoes, purple hull peas, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, and okra. I’ve never grown…

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Little Things: Returning to a Book-in-Progress

Today, Cathy and I cleaned up our landscaping. We deadheaded rose bushes, trimmed shrubs, pulled weeds. Just a little tidying up on a beautiful day in early summer. I’ve reached the point of the year when my teaching duties at Ohio State are finished until late August, and I’m trying to get back to a…

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