More Writing Advice from Stella the Cat

I remember many years ago reading this passage from Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington: If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work ... the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp ... The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that [...]

By |2020-02-24T07:23:38-05:00February 24th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

Stories Can Save Us

It can be easy in these days of doubtful facts, deliberate deceit, and dubious truth, to worry about the value of storytelling. Our politicians threaten narrative; our fractured world can do the same. Even when it comes to the writing of creative nonfiction—that genre that deals in facts—we may be tempted to question the value of a story well-told. The lyric impulse has invited forms that rely on fragmentation, association, contemplation, juxtaposition, wordplay. Practitioners explode narrative. Many find story to be suspect, oft times even tyrannical, because it forces a logic and a causality that our contemporary world often lacks. [...]

By |2020-02-17T07:31:56-05:00February 17th, 2020|Blog|4 Comments

The Artifacts of a Life

I have a small iron hammer, threaded at its end, that belonged to my father. Someone, although I don’t know who, made this hammer and threaded it to screw into the end of one of the hard plastic holsters where my father’s hooks usually fit. This way, my father, who’d lost both of his hands in a farming accident, could, if he chose, have a hammer to use when working on our farm.  I have little memory of him actually using this hammer, but the hammer itself endures, and I often wonder what someone, finding it, will think, once I’m [...]

By |2020-02-10T07:11:20-05:00February 10th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

This Is Who We’ve Always Been: Writing Memoir

I’m teaching a creative nonfiction workshop this semester for people who, for the most part, have never worked in the genre. I remember my own first steps into memoir. I had my first tenure-track teaching position, and I had to teach a graduate level cnf workshop. At that point, I’d published my first book of short stories, and I thought that was my genre. But if I were going to teach graduate students how to write creative nonfiction, I figured I’d better try writing some of my own. I wrote an essay called “From Our House.” It was the first [...]

By |2020-02-03T08:00:42-05:00February 3rd, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

Struggle and Empathy

We’ve reached the final week of January, which always feels significant to me. A native Midwesterner, I’ve always thought of winter as an endurance test, and each signpost along the way—the end of January, Valentine’s Day, the NCAA basketball tournament, etc.—a mark that brings us closer to spring. Here in the Midwest, we earn our springs. We go through the cold and snow and ice, and because we endure, we deserve the warm days that finally are ours. I admit our winter this year has been fairly mild, but still, even the gray and damp attacks the spirit and we [...]

By |2020-01-27T07:24:15-05:00January 27th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

Miami of Ohio Low-Residency MFA Program

I spent last week teaching in the low-residency MFA program at Miami of Ohio in Oxford, Ohio, making trips back to Columbus two days so I could teach my classes at Ohio State. Needless to say, if anyone needs to know the route from Columbus to Oxford, I’m your guy. During that week, I talked the talk with undergraduates at Ohio State, writers in our residential MFA program, graduate students and professionals from other departments on campus, and, at Miami, writers who are pursuing the MFA degree in a less traditional way. The common factor among all these populations? A [...]

By |2020-01-20T03:27:10-05:00January 20th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

Driving at Night in the Fog: Strategies for Beginning a Novel

  E.L. Doctorow said this in a Paris Review Writers at Work interview: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I’m sure, like me, you’ve felt that fog as you contemplate starting a new project. Stephen King said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” For novelists, the journey through that fog can seem endless and, quite frankly, intimidating. Here, then, are five ways to open a novel along with what each requires to be successful.   The [...]

By |2020-01-13T06:38:16-05:00January 13th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

New Year, New Writing: Tips for Moving Ahead

Here we are at the start of another year, and though the winter weather has yet to be harsh here in central Ohio, we can safely assume that it will eventually slap us with cold and snow. We know this because we’ve lived through it before and will surely do so again. Each flip of the calendar—each sunrise, even—gives us a chance to rededicate ourselves to our writing lives. We know those lives are made up of peaks and valleys. We have days when we feel the writing is going well, and we have days when the words just won’t [...]

By |2020-01-06T08:09:22-05:00January 6th, 2020|Blog|2 Comments

On the New Year

Something about the current state of things in our country invites me to share this post from a few years ago, updated a tad to account for the passing of time. When I was a boy, it was my family’s New Year’s Eve tradition to gather for an oyster soup supper, followed by a rousing round of Rook, a trick-taking card game, that pitted one set of partners against another. We played a lot of Rook in those days. My father and my uncles were competitive, and the games were full of big talk and big egos. One uncle in [...]

By |2019-12-30T08:27:02-05:00December 30th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments

To Cherish the World: A Christmas Wish

I was back in my native southeastern Illinois last week, and I happened to have a little dust-up with a stranger at the local fitness center. Let’s say we should have agreed to disagree and left it at that, but we didn’t. She, a very nice elderly lady, broached a subject she shouldn’t have brought up if she really wanted to know my opinion. I tried to warn her. I said, “I’m not sure you want to start this conversation with me.” Nevertheless, she persisted. She was soft-spoken and polite. Her white hair was neatly coifed, and she reminded me [...]

By |2019-12-23T08:06:24-05:00December 23rd, 2019|Uncategorized|6 Comments