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Following the Trouble to Its End

When I run on a treadmill at the Y on the weekends, the television in front of me is often showing a program, which I believe may be called Dr. Chris Pet Vet. It’s a show about pets in need of care for one reason or the other. The owners bring their pets to Dr. Chris, and during the course of the show he gives them the diagnoses, discusses his suggested treatment, and then performs it. Along the way, the show stresses that the treatment will be tricky and there’s no guarantee that it will be successful, but of course [...]

By |2019-09-09T08:08:11-04:00September 9th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments

A Teacher Who Took the Time

This week I re-watched the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, because I wanted to see my former teacher, Lucy Gabbard, the woman who had such an effect on me when I was first an undergraduate and then a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University. She’s billed as “Flat Tire Lady” in this film because she’s one of the women in need of assistance when a tire goes flat and Bill Murray comes to the rescue. She has a line of dialogue in a later scene when she thanks Murray at a community gathering. Just to see her sweet smile and [...]

By |2019-09-02T08:06:21-04:00September 2nd, 2019|Blog|2 Comments

Courage, Confidence, Curiosity: Writing the First Draft

My neighbor, Uwe, likes to walk. I mean, really walk. Five, seven, ten miles—it’s nothing for him, and he’s a little shy of 75 years old. Sometimes he’s on the treadmill next to mine at the local YMCA where I run five miles every other day, but I know he likes to get out on the trails at a nearby park and nature preserve. Another neighbor, Tim, often accompanies him on Sunday mornings. So last night, at a backyard gathering, Uwe confirmed that Tim would indeed join him this morning. Then Uwe asked me if I’d like to come along. [...]

By |2019-08-26T07:47:39-04:00August 26th, 2019|Blog|2 Comments

Being Good Stewards of Our Gifts: Advice for Writers and the Writing We Do

I just got back from Vermont yesterday, which explains the lateness of this weekly post. I was teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference along with many of my favorite colleagues. (By the way, this conference, at least to my way of thinking, is one of the very best.) This morning, one of those colleagues, Dinty Moore, posted this quote from Jane Kenyon: “Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as [...]

By |2019-08-19T12:29:46-04:00August 19th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

Taming the Shaggy Beast: Letting Your Novel Write Itself

The laconic comedian, Stephen Wright, once said, “I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.” Now there’s a man determined to tame the shaggy beast, as Henry James called the novel form. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d prefer a few more practical strategies for getting the job done than just imagining you’ve gotten to the end by putting the numbers on blank pages. So with that in mind, let’s start with the notion that our novels all exist, fully formed, in a pre-vocabulary state, and are just waiting for us to find the words [...]

By |2019-08-11T16:00:35-04:00August 11th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

“Whatcha Doin’?”: Surviving a Writer’s Dry Season

I came back from teaching in the Miami of Ohio low-residency MFA program yesterday and found we’re still in the middle of a dry season here in Columbus. The lawns are brown and crunchy, and, truth be told, it depresses me to see them that way. Even those who are watering, or have irrigation systems, are having a hard time keeping up. The landscape makes me think of things ending, and not in that pretty, crisp-air, autumn sort of way. This dryness calls to mind a dormant land and a fallow period, one that suggests that things just might not [...]

By |2019-08-05T07:23:59-04:00August 5th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

Teaching and Revising

I’m leading a fiction workshop this week—a good warmup for another academic year about to begin—and it occurs to me that the way I approach the discussion about a manuscript may offer a useful scheme for those interested in strategies for revising a first draft. My custom is to first consider—and to invite my workshop participants to consider—what the draft seems to be interested in.  What are its obsessions? To what does it devote the most space? What lies at its heart? Answering such questions inevitability leads to an articulation of the center of the piece. Such intimate knowledge is [...]

By |2019-07-29T08:51:10-04:00July 29th, 2019|Blog|4 Comments

Hot Enough?: Practicing Subtext in Dialogue

We’re having a heat wave. Temps in the mid-nineties. Heat indices well over a hundred. Cathy and I went out yesterday afternoon to do some shopping, and the volume of traffic was noticeably lower. The stores were a bit emptier. There was no waiting for a table at one of our favorite restaurants. If a city this size could ever seem like a ghost town, it came close yesterday. The malaise of a hot day in summer always reminds me of the scene in The Great Gatsby when Tom and Daisy and Nick and Jordan decide to drive into New [...]

By |2019-07-22T08:18:40-04:00July 22nd, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

The Variation in the Habitual: Creating Scenes

We’ve hit a stretch of hot, dry days here in central Ohio, each day like the one before it. The grass is brown, the trees are dropping their leaves, the sun blazes. I long for a variation in the pattern, something out of the ordinary, something to make me say, “Ah, here’s something different.” Such is the lifeblood of scenes in a narrative. A good scene depends upon such dissimilarity. Otherwise, why have a scene at all. A character’s actions or words demand dramatization. We have to dramatize because something extraordinary has happened. This doesn’t mean some grand event like [...]

By |2019-07-15T08:05:15-04:00July 15th, 2019|Blog|3 Comments

Don’t Wait: Write!

Cathy and I decided to make a little weekend getaway after the Fourth of July, so we headed up to Ohio Amish Country. We love the rolling hills there, the sight of haystacks in the pastures, the cows and sheep and goats, the sound of horseshoes clip-clopping over pavement as a horse and buggy passes. We were surprised to learn that the Amish are favoring bicycles as a mode of transportation these days. On Friday evening, as we drove into Berlin at dusk, we encountered a steady stream of bicycle and buggy lights in what used to be known as [...]

By |2019-07-08T08:28:15-04:00July 8th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments