Snow Was General: Broadening the Perspective

It’s a snowy day here in central Ohio. Big, wet flakes drift down from the sky. The snow piles up on rooftops and driveways and sidewalks. It clings to the branches of evergreen trees. It’s as if a blanket has been thrown over the world. All is eerily quiet. This type of snow always reminds…

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The Adult World Arrives: A Writing Prompt

The summer I was seventeen I worked on a Christmas tree farm. It was my job to shape the trees that, come December, would end up in people’s homes. “Just like an upside-down ice cream cone,” my boss told me. I used a machete or hand shears to trim the trees into a proper shape.…

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Let’s Get Curious: A Writing Prompt

Ray Bradbury once said, “That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: You make them follow you.” Far be it for me to take issue with Mr. Bradbury, but I find myself wondering whether the real secret of creativity is to train ourselves to follow our ideas. Take curiosity, for instance, which…

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Encouragement for the New Year

As we turn the page to a new year, I find myself thinking back to March 2, 2011, the date of my first post on this blog. At the time, my new novel, Break the Skin, was three months from its publication date, I was about to teach a graduate seminar in forms of creative…

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The Grandfather I Never Knew

When I was a small boy, I spent Christmas Day with my mother’s side of the family at my grandmother’s house. She lived on the corner where two gravel roads intersected across from the Berryville Store. At one point, she and my grandfather had managed that store, but by the time I came along in…

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The Hidden Object: A Prompt for Fiction Writers

This week before Christmas, I’m thinking about how, as a child, I couldn’t resist searching for presents my mother had hidden from me. I wish I could say I was a better kid who could resist that temptation, but, alas. . . . Of course, one of two things happened whenever I found a gift…

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What-Iffing in Historical Fiction

In 1845 near where I grew up in southeastern Illinois, a woman named Betsey Reed stood trial, accused of murdering her husband by poisoning him with arsenic. This is the factual basis for my new novel, The Glassmaker’s Wife, whose publication date is this Tuesday. On Thursday December 8 at 6pm, Eastern time, I’ll be…

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Joining a Community of Writers

It’s been a glorious Thanksgiving weekend. On Thursday, Cathy and I provided a meal for, and enjoyed the company of, six people associated with our MFA program. Friday, we decorated for Christmas. Yesterday, we finished preparing our patio for winter. Today, we’re meeting friends for dinner. Lovely connections with people all around. Such connections are…

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Thanksgiving, Old Photos, and Memoir

At the start of this Thanksgiving week, I remember the family dinners of my childhood. As long as she was able, my grandmother Read hosted. She lived in a modest frame house cattycornered from the Berryville Store in southeastern Illinois. At one time, she and my grandfather had managed that general store, but he died…

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Say the Secret Things: Memoir and Power

In October, I taught a two-day workshop at a local public library. Our focus was on writing about moments from our pasts that still haunt us in some way. We wrote about things that hurt us, that shamed us, that left us with guilt and regret. Along the way, we also revisited moments of joy…

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